Friday, August 8, 2008

Welcome to the Jungle. We have some very nice lofts.

What happens to noir when the cities are all full of townhomes and loft apartments populated by nice, educated families with long-term employment and a hefty mortgage? Will people be able to identify with Hammett's San Francisco, Chandler's Los Angeles or Spillane's New York? Will they look at the tenements and narrow alleys in noir films, and ask themselves, where is that?

There's no denying that major American cities are
undergoing a change and have been for a while. As people move back into the cities and developers race to tear down everything that's not bright, shiny and brand new in the mad scramble to accommodate them what is lost? Character? Charm? Affordable housing for all the people who cater to the whims of the new, wealthy residents? What is gained? Lower crime rates? Higher property values? More tax revenue? Gushing write-ups in glossy magazines?

In Los Angeles, mystery writers and tenant groups have both recognized what they have to lose through gentrification, and I have to say I have sympathy since I live in a 60's era apartment complex in Atlanta that's scheduled, at some indefinite point in the future, for demolition and replacement with a billion dollar mixed use (whatever the fuck that means) development. My apartment complex isn't crime ridden. It isn't shabby by any reasonable definition of the word, and it is affordable, which is why I like it. I don't go in for fancy. Granite countertops mean nothing to me. (I sometimes think I'm the only white person in America with a college education who doesn't take a masochistic pleasure in paying too much for housing.)

Still, it's not as simple as tenants good, developers bad, although there is a stunning amount of corruption that always comes along with any big money development. New is sometimes better. There's very little that stays constant in cities or anywhere else. And I wouldn't worry too much about the urban jungle disappearing from our popular imagination anytime soon. In the end, the noir city is just a backdrop. It doesn't make or break noir or detective fiction, which isn't about anything as mutable as a city. It's about the darkness in the human heart, which is something that all of us carry with us always, whether our homes have granite countertops or not.

(This post was, in part, inspired by this one.)

1 comment:

Gonzalo B said...

What an interesting post. I agree that noir lies in the human heart. I just finished reading Scott Wolven's Controlled Burn and even though all of its stories are set against a rural backdrop, it's as noir as they come. Not only that, but it's a great book, probably one of the best I've read in years. I highly recommend it if you haven't read it already.