I want to tell you a story I recently heard about a friend in New York—actually a friend of a friend, a young architect and entrepreneur named Peter Green Peter Chang. I have never met Peter Green Peter Chang myself, nor has anyone ever explained to me why his full name contains two Peters. But his story is somehow familiar, even if nothing like it has ever happened to me. Perhaps because it could happen to me or to anyone else in the near future.
In New York Peter Green Peter Chang had become moderately well-known in the architecture community for his work with a number of property developers. These were property developers who acquired real estate from the elderly or from poor members of neighborhoods just starting to be accessed by creative young people seeking cheaper rents. Anticipating broad demographic changes on the horizon, the developers would obtain swaths of overripe or derelict homes and storefronts and convert them into grand cathedrals for creative living and entrepreneurial projects.
Over the years Peter Green Peter Chang grew to be the main architect in charge of aesthetic upgrades for these neighborhoods. His peculiar name must have had the right ring to developers. Green is good for an architect, Chang is inexpensive, and Peter is honest. So Peter Green Peter Chang had a steady stream of work. But in fact he had no competitors. His fees were at least half of the next lowest bid on any project. At the end of every project, there were no surprise costs. And he always delivered on time. No client dared ask him how he did it. Probably for fear of what they might find.
Being Chinese, Peter Green Peter Chang had a strong sense of civic duty. When the process of removing old residents felt cruel or premature, as it often did, he would remind himself: this is New York and this is America—he did not enter into this line of work easily. His parents did not have an easy landing when they came to the US, nor did his grandparents when they moved to Taiwan. Violence is just a part of life, and all people must deal with change. He had to, his parents had to, their parents had to, and most certainly their parents in China had to deal with change as well. If he had inherited both strength and bitterness from his family's experiences of migration and survival, he was now putting it to use in his position at the very forefront of structural changes taking place in the city where he lived.
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