Shock troops of Gentrification

While the hipster seems to be the unwilling and unknowing shock troops for gentrification, their intent is not malicious or deceptive. It is with great admiration that I begin to write about hipsters, and hopefully those reading this will understand that the media tends to stereotype groups with a banality that borders on neuroses. And what we know of the hipster stereotype is far from any truth imaginable.

In Portland, Maine we  see the current process of gentrification, as it has been and is occurring in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and how it is changing the city. Now what is occurring in Portland is what Sharon Zukin describes in her book Naked City , discussing the urban environment, and what Richard Lloyd discusses in Neo-Bohemia as he analyzed the culture of Wicker Park Chicago in the eighties to the late nineties. What they both notice in their work is that post-industrial areas seem to attract a bohemian crowd, a group of like minded individuals who want to come together, and form communities, neighborhoods, where they can be around people who share similar traits and qualities. To be honest I find this normal, and in no way out of the ordinary. If you are a liberal who is anti-gun, pro-choice, and pro- immigration rights you don’t choose to move to Texas thinking there will be a plethora of individuals who will share you passion for your beliefs. Instead you find an area that suits your needs better.

These artists, bohemians, hipsters, how about just plain people, see the attraction, appeal, and even beauty of these post-industrial complexes and in renovating them, create a community which brings mass appeal to others. In doing so, they begin to renovate neighborhoods that would be untouched before, and unaccessible to the general public out of fear of crime and lack of public services. By doing what all other people do, enhance their own surroundings and try and find affordable housing, they create an area that is livable again out of a wasteland that would otherwise have crumbled and disappeared into oblivion, as time seeped into the cracked mortar between bricks, slowing cleaving the old dilapidated structures in two. In creating a livable environment though, unfortunately the vultures begin to buzz overhead, unbeknownst to these homesteading urban pioneers.

As the bricks are mended and storefronts fill up with boutiques, coffee houses, yoga studios, used bookstores, bars, and restaurants, this creates an inevitability which is unfortunate and out of the hands of these initial entrepreneurs. Rents begin to rise, more new stores fill in, and older bodega’s, corner bars, and other small businesses which once filled these storefronts, begin to disappear. As Zukin notes, this isn’t a bad thing, it is the beginning of a cycle, the genesis of a neighborhood. But, this is where gentrification occurs. It is not at the hands of the initial urban pioneers who cleaned the neighborhood, bringing in art galleries and coffee shops, but at the developers and real estate investment firms, that we begin to see the neighborhood’s landscape altered.

Eventually rents raise so high that the boutiques and coffee shops catering to hipsters, bohemians, and artists begin to disappear, replaced by chain stores. Not chains like Wal-mart or Target, these still would have no market here, but chains that are regionally based, usually within the city, or specific stores that cater to that lifestyle. In Williamsburg, clothing stores from Manhattan have opened chains within the neighborhood limits, and in Portland, Maine hotels and restaurants seem to be the commodity of investors in the Old Port.

As the process of gentrification goes into full swing, housing begins to change the landscape, and older homes are bought up and torn down for development of luxury apartments and condominiums. In Portland this is happening on the East End and Munjoy Hill, while in Williamsburg this is happening right on the waterfront where the old factories have been torn down to make way for luxury riverfront apartments. This is an unfortunate matter of fact that was not anticipated by these urban pioneers who sought to create their own neighborhoods, and bask in their own created environment. What has occurred is the area is now desirable, and people from outside want to live amongst the hip, the cool, the tres Brooklyn. This is the unfortunate side effect of these bohemian hipster neighborhoods.

Eventually rents raises so high that the original bohemians, artists, hipsters, urban pioneers, can no longer afford to live there, and must move out of the neighborhoods they helped create and design. And this opens the door for super gentrification, as Zukin calls it. But that is another conversation all together.

 

The Hipster….or Is It?

The hipster is a media invention to further categorize a subculture of individuals. In my recent research I have observed that there are hipsters, but there are not. First off, who is responsible for creating a category of a people. Who has the authority to group a people together, homogenize their characteristics, and then come out with a name which somehow, becomes their identification? This always complicates research when you begin to delve into thoughts such as this, and ponder questions of a more esoteric nature.

The hipster exists, in the sense that the media and mainstream culture has created the designation, and then adorned a group of individuals with such a name. It is like designating an area of nature as a national park. In doing this we somehow change the landscape of that natural wonder just by placing a moniker upon it, altering the lens through which we view this area. Now this is not to say that the identifiers–traits, idiosyncrasies, characteristics–that are attributed to the hipster subculture are not accurate, that would be far from the truth. But a problem arises from this. To simply categorize a subculture on identifiers is such a hollow undertaking, it smacks of typecasting. So the newspapers, magazines, newscasts all take this name, this category, and begin the conversation on this group of individuals, which then lends credence to the belief and existence of hipsters. You begin to see books written on such, and it becomes a catchy phrase–sometimes good and sometimes out of disdain. Whatever it may be though, this is an invented name. But, this then leads to something else, isn’t everything invented? Isn’t it all a cultural construct?

The hipster exists, and is a person who does not self identify as such, which poses the unique conundrum, are there really hipsters? This interesting dynamic has much depth and philosophical thought propelling it forward. Because again, who creates identities such as “hipster?” Who holds the cultural authority to lump a group of people with like characteristics into one category and ignore the fact there are so many facets to one human being, let alone thousands and millions? A group of people will always be heterogeneous, no matter how many similarities they possess. So the hipster exists on paper and in my research, as an easy way to show similarities between a group of people who have come together, existing in close proximity to each other, in communities they help mold and create through an immense entrepreneurial spirit which is fascinating and inspiring. For the public at large, “hipster” exists for people to easily identify and find comfort in the ability to categorize another human, with a quick judgement based on exterior features. This quick reference tool, is what we do everyday in life.

But in the end, the hipster does not exist. The hipster is a myth, a phantasm, an illusion. Because how can you say a person is something, if they truly believe they are not? Remember, its all a cultural construct.