a smell of urine

This view hasn’t changed; only those who take it in.

There was a time when the same eyes that would have looked out on the Atlantic Ocean from the “Windward Coast” (“Ivory Coast”) would have looked out on what is now Central Park West. Of course, in 1850 there was no Central Park West.

There was no Central Park.IMG_3124

A little more than 100 years later, the eyes of the succeeding generations would have looked out onto a drug-laden Upper West Side. They would have looked onto Amsterdam Avenue and probably not onto Central Park West. They would have looked down from soulless high-rises with broken elevators and the smell of urine in the stairwells. Heroine needles. The eyes of 1850 had a qualified power; they were landowners. The eyes of 1950 were emasculated tenants.

I sip my boutique coffee on the outcropping of schist that would have been here then but was probably sculpted after the Windward Coast eyes were told they must look elsewhere. I came here on a cool Sunday morning before church. I sit and sip and decide how long to stay. It’s my choice. I could stay longer if I wanted to.

Where I sit was once, “possibly…Manhattan’s first stable community of African American property owners,” as described by the descendant organization that benefited from an early use of eminent domain to oust the community itself along with everyone else in the surrounding 843 acres.

Owners were compensated for their land. Some moved and reestablished themselves. Others did not.

It is one thing to compensate for land.

It is another to compensate for place.

photo: author