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Tourist Ghetto
Lee Caskey


August 24, 2005

A curious way to put it yes, but after some thought I think it fits what happens to downtown. Even as I drive home from work through downtown I can see what Mr. Bergeron meant by "ghetto". Let me quote some examples of definitions pulled from the Web.

A ghetto is a neighborhood or district in which members of a particular ethnic or racial group are forced to live by law or as a result of economics or social discrimination.

A ghetto is an area where people from a specific ethnic background or united in a given culture or religion live as a group, voluntarily or involuntarily, in milder or stricter seclusion. The word historically referred to restricted housing zones where Jews were required to live; however, it now commonly labels any poverty-stricken urban area.

Something that resembles the restriction or isolation of a city.

The last one really drives it home. If you drive downtown 5 minutes after the ships are gone you will find it practically empty, except for the other people driving Tongass. All the "high-end" stores with their barkers and "greeters" are gone, their doors are closed, their products removed, blinds shut tight because their source of income has sailed off. The "professional signage" seems to mock you with its advertising of precious gems most couldn't afford and stupid curios that anyone in their right mind wouldn't waste money on. Those "clean storefronts" give me the feeling of "You don't belong here anymore, we're too good for you."

In the winter, the feeling is worse since just about all activity downtown is gone. That "five-star" hotel, Jimbo's, the bars, the little shops, all of that is gone. The clientele of some of those rowdy places may not have been in the best of social standing, or even able to stand, but they were here supporting other locals. Yes, I know that there are two bars downtown, a drugstore and bank branches, but who bothers to go down that way. The only places I go are the movie theater and the Pioneer Cafe; which recently moved off the main strip to a larger nicer place, but you can bet we'll see another jewelry store in it's place come next spring. Ready to generate taxable revenue.

There is so much money pouring through those shops yet we argue for the measly percentages of sales tax revenue. It is like cool water, dribbling from the mouth of someone guzzling a canteen, that falls on a parched man's fingers to be licked off. Granted, that kind of thirst isn't what we experience here, but it seems that way. When you really stop to think how much money is guzzled off this island, the tourism industry leaves us economically dry, and very thirsty.

So in an ironic sense it is a ghetto. An economic one, obviously race or ethnicity doesn't apply, so remove those terms and look at the meaning. A place of isolation in the winter for the local stores still there, and a restritive place in the summer for anyone who isn't a shop-owning snowbird or tourist lemming. It is a poverty-stricken area because there is a distinct lack of local shops, our people and our pride in our town.

I have typed out, saved and carefully edited three letters to Sitnews in the past few weeks, yet they still seemed a bit too caustic to send in. I hope I don't offend now by "shooting from the hip" here. I am so glad that there is a place to have our views so unbiasedly published. Big, huge thanks to the Kauffmans for hosting this wonderful site!

Lee Caskey
Ketchikan, AK - USA




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