How the drugs keep the hood from starving, a study of local urban economics.

This is a touchy subject to write about, and even harder to write about it subjectively. I am not trying to make arguments supporting drugs or guns, what I am trying to accomplish is an explanation of what makes a blighted neighborhood tick financially. It never fails to amaze me at the infinite amount of “black markets” that exist here in Wilkinsburg, we have basement bars, fireworks in a van, the meat car, infinite front porch candy/pop stores, back porch single beer and 40oz shops, door to door garbage picker salesman, bootleg CD and DVD’s and of course drug dealers that can supply your every desire. From the outside looking in one probably starts to think that this should not exist and needs to be stopped ASAP, the more time I spend in this area the more I start to question my own beliefs on the subject.

I guess I will start this off on the subject of local currency, something very near and dear to the transition movement. What is currency? I’m glad you asked that, currency is really only an item that you have that someone else wants. For me it’s gardening, I’m good at it and I trade my services for all kinds of things, from cash to cookies I’ve gardened for it. Currency takes on many forms in a neighborhood as well depending on whats in demand at the time, from drugs, guns and sex when times are tough, to candy and clothes when times are good. It never fails to amaze me how far a person can stretch a $300 welfare check of which only $105 of it is actual cash.

When you get paid do you invest your money in say, a retirement fund or a 401k? You know looking out for yourself in the long run… say 30 or 40 years from now, my bad, I forgot we will all be 100 when we retire in the future! This is the same kind of idea, except instead of retirement they are just trying to get through the month. Instead of investing in an IRA or a 401K the neighborhood invests in drugs, candy or anything sellable to try to stretch the money out. People in my neighborhood often do not have vehicles, and even more often never get to leave Pittsburgh yet alone Wilkinsburg, when they need to get out of dodge for a weekend they visit family in Garfield. Certain commodities need to be available at the local level in order for communities like Wilkinsburg to survive, they are what keeps us from starving…

In Wilkinsburg we have a few houses that have little general stores built into them, they sell candy, pop, single beers and single cigarettes called “loosies”, common housewares and anything one might commonly need on a day-to-day basis. Most of these general stores are basically funded by food stamps or at least were started with food stamps. I hear people tell stories about being in line behind someone at the grocery store who bought $200 worth of candy on a welfare card, usually they are disgusted that someone would waste food stamps on such a purchase when in reality it could be the start of a future tax paying convenience store… If the demand was for fruits and veggies instead of candy, beer and smokes then these stores could sell items they grew on the local farm… As far as I can tell the hard part is re-programming people to create a different demand, the distribution structure is kind of already here.

Probably the most controversial “commodities” commonly traded in my neighborhood are drugs, I would estimate we are currently at 1 in every 4 houses is involved in one way or another in the drug trade whether dealer or consumer. Weed being the number one in amount sold but crack cocaine being number one in dollar amounts. I have friends on both ends of this spectrum, I know kids who only have clothes and toys because of their parents sale of the drugs, and I know kids who have absolutely nothing because of their parents use of the drugs. I have gardened for a woman with a wicked addiction to crack who had nothing… I mean her kids were playing kickball in the street for hours with a can… Anyway she spent all of her money on crack from her drug dealer next door! The neighbor’s house was really nice and the yard was full of toys, yet the drug dealer neighbor wouldn’t let their kids play with the “crackheads” kids next door… Does anyone else see the problem here?

It’s funny how drugs were both making and breaking this street at the same time. You see I am not trying to make an argument for drugs here in any way, shape or form… I’m just trying to state the fact that they exist and at some point along the way have become a sadly important part of our local economy that needs to be tweaked. I have done small jobs here and there for people and am positive I was paid in drug money, and no, I didn’t turn it down… that’s part of fitting in… accepting the social norm… anyone getting the message here? Sometimes in order to help someone out in an area where the societal norm may be slightly askew from what is considered “normal” you may have to bend a few moral standards from time to time. By any means necessary!

What do you think would happen if 20 people a day asked a crack dealer to buy some kale? Eventually that mans gonna figure out what kale is and start carrying a little cooler around with some kale in it. What if people came to the little neighborhood corner stores and started requesting vegetables grown in the neighborhood specifically, eventually that store owner would start asking neighbors for vegetables. Imagine a city where one neighborhood specializes in growing collard greens and another tomatoes then once a week you all got together and sold or traded your veggies effectively eliminating the need for outside help. I really see opportunity here I just don’t really know how to bring it into reality… yet!

People who have lived a life of poverty begin to think with a do or die, by any means necessary kind of mentality that I really find amazing. Survivalism is kind of becoming a hot subject today, survivalism is really nothing more than learning how to work a system in order to maintain your own existence. Some of us have figured out how to survive working the currently available system of work and currency while others have figured out another way. If people from your neighborhood keep coming to my neighborhood looking for drugs and sex then someone in my neighborhood will keep serving them, I need the people from your neighborhood to start coming here looking for vegetables and flowers. It is human nature to do whatever is necessary to survive, the only variable is our surroundings.

Squash blossoms in front of an abandoned house on Whitney Avenue summer 2012…¬† Squash plants need very little care after initial establishment… It doesn’t matter where you plant it, just plant it!

Grow Food By Any Means Necessary – Chris Condello

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