Sunday, April 25, 2021

#115 / The Eggplant That Ate Chicago

Proposed Development 831 Water Street

Probably not everyone will know of or remember the inspiring lyrics of "The Eggplant That Ate Chicago." This was a 1966 hit song by Dr. West's Medicine Show and Junk Band
I have never forgotten this song, which became a family favorite, way back in the day. I like the song on its own terms, and I have always thought that the lyrics have manifold metaphorical applications: 

He came from outer space, lookin' for somethin' to eat
He landed in Chicago, he thought Chicago was a treat
(It was sweet, it was just like sugar)
You'd better watch out for the eggplant that ate Chicago
For he may eat your city soon (wacka-do, wacka-do, wacka-do)
You'd better watch out for the eggplant that ate Chicago
If he's still hungry, your whole country is doomed

You can hear the original song, which I encourage you to do - it's a lot of fun - by clicking on the YouTube link at the bottom of this blog posting. The song came to mind, yesterday, as I visited "Lot #4," in downtown Santa Cruz, to celebrate Earth Day and to lend support to those who are opposing a mammoth, six-story building that is proposed on the site of the current Farmer's Market. 
The proposed project on Lot #4 would displace all current uses, and require cutting down the heritage magnolia trees on the site. It would include a 400-space parking garage and a library conjoined with and conjured into what is billed as an affordable housing project.
If you thought that Santa Cruz already had a Library downtown - and had actually voted for the funding necessary to renovate it - you'd be right. The City Council, however, has opted for what some have called the "Taj Garage," and is planning to use the Library renovation funding to move the Lot #4 project ahead. The Council, in fact, is now actively investigating what other kinds of high-density development could be placed on the Library site, right across the street from City Hall. Once our existing Library has been razed to the ground, all sorts of possibilities are opened up for a high-rise, high-density replacement structure right there.
High-rise and high-density seem to be going around.

What actually put me in mind of the "Eggplant" song wasn't so much the Taj Garage - although it certainly could have. I happened to meet someone, yesterday, at the Earth Day event, who was trying to inform the public about the proposed project pictured at the top of this blog posting. The rendering is of the increasingly infamous "831 Water Street Project," a proposal to place a six-story building on the corner of Branciforte and Water Streets, with a rooftop bar to cap it all off. The massive dimensions of the proposed building would totally overshadow a pretty nice residential neighborhood next door. That is where the person who talked to me actually lives. He thought the proposal was way out of scale and inappropriate. I agreed, and started thinking about that "Eggplant That Ate Chicago."
Just in case any Santa Cruz resident is not following current planning decisions, I am providing some pictures of a couple of developments already approved, and one that is pending approval. If ultimately constructed, these high-rise, high-density developments will fundamentally change the character and scale of downtown. The ones approved so far don't do much to provide affordable housing, either: 
Laurel - Front Street (Approved)

Riverfront (Approved)

Soquel - Front Street (Proposed)
Soquel - Front (From the South, On The River)


Maybe downtown is the right place for such massive new mixed-use projects - though I am personally dubious, and particularly when these projects are designed to attract more upper income residents from outside the existing community. Ordinary income Santa Cruz residents are already being priced out of the community, and these new projects are only going to speed up the process.

However, downtown developments are, traditionally, higher density and higher rise than developments in and adjacent to our residential neighborhoods. But take a look at that ever more infamous 831 Water Street project. It, too is six floors. It demonstrates (and it's not the only one, by any means), that the high-rise, high-density "Eggplant" that is eating up our downtown is hungry for more, and is heading right for our neighborhood areas. If that "Eggplant" of big development is still hungry, then Dr. West and the Junk Band may be right on target, and all of our corridors, and all of our neighborhoods are ultimately doomed. 

Of course, I don't really believe in "doom." I believe in democracy. There is something we can do about this. It's called "politics."

But those of us who like our existing neighborhoods pretty much the way they are had better watch out, just as Dr. West and the Junk Band advise. Click the link below, to listen to the song, and see if you don't think there is a metaphorical application, right here in Santa Cruz, California. We are a long way from Chicago, but when I consider the "Eggplant" developers, and their collaborators down in the City offices, I'm thinking that we in the neighborhoods are looking pretty sweet, too! 


Image Credits:


  1. Sir, there is a pernicious, racist, undertone to The Eggplant That Ate Chicago that may or may not have been in the mind of the song's writer, but it's one that you should consider. Eggplant, in Italian slang, is close to in meaning, if not exactly the same as, the "n" word in racist English vocabulary. The notion of the eggplant being from outer space and the notion of it eating Chicago are two direct, racist, statements that black people have "invaded" Chicago and destroyed the city. The history of people in northern cities feeling that the great migration that took place after the Civil War was bad for those municipalities is nothing unknown in America, particularly in MAGA world. I used to include this song when I sang for my friends, daughters, nephew and nieces, etc., until one day I realized that it may be coded racism I do not want to project. I may be wrong about the song writer's intention, and I know nothing about either Dr. West or Norman Greenbaum, so I cannot in good faith accuse either one of them, but I have stopped playing the song, and my nephew, who became a music teacher himself, has felt it necessary to alter the lyrics. For its great kazoo part the song is worth preserving, but the racism, if real, is not.

    1. I appreciate this comment. As can be seen from my blog posting, I certainly have not thought of the implications of the song as racist, and it would be fascinating to find out whether "Dr. West" had such thoughts in mind when he and his band recorded it. Hopefully, those who are concerned about some of the growth issues I wrote about in my blog posting will think about those issues without connecting their thoughts about recent Santa Cruz developments with any reference to the potential racism imbricated in the lyrics of "The Eggplant That Ate Chicago."


Thanks for your comment!