Here in New York, we hear much talk of “communities:” “Save our communities;” “Don’t let them destroy our community;” “We must protect our communities.” Yet defining what a “community” actually is in this city, or if it’s still even a useful category, would mean looking beyond both the empty rhetoric of politicians and the familiar line of professional activists claiming to represent this community or that. Whatever or whomever they presume to contain, one thing seems apparent: our communities are always already under attack.
If communities are traditionally seen as geographically bound, what of spatiality? Parsing the city by gerrymandered political districts has never really made sense, while the notion of distinct and unique “neighborhoods” has long been the province of real estate brokers and city boosters (to wit, just a few relatively recent creations: Clinton Hill, the East/Central/West/Far West Villages, SoHo, NoLita, East Williamsburg, South Slope, etc.). Not coincidentally, these forces are the same ones who have been fragmenting our blocks for decades, whether it be via foreclosures, gentrification, or rent hikes.
Capital gave up its loyalty to place long ago; such a politics of speed has shoved us into a world in which one’s sense of geographical being is limited to the traversed space between home, work, and the bar. While many stare at their smartphones and feel empowered, mapping and infographing, augmenting reality with a layered pastiche of unlimited data and citation, the NYPD and their IT specialists have been hard at work augmenting social reality proper—surveilling our blocks, scanning our faces, guiding our paths.
Communities are tenuous, but precincts are literally etched in stone. Wielding firearms and statistics, the NYPD treats each of their precincts as a distinct battleground. Perhaps we should accept their challenge.