Have you noticed a decrease in children named Denim and Bowie running around Williamsburg? Were you recently struck by the urge to get in touch with a futurism consultant only to find that the one who had been recommended to you now lives in Westchester? Has it occurred to you lately that Brooklyn no longer seems like a nonstop party but is in fact more like “the last three days of Burning Man”? Probably not, right? Because you’re just living your life in Brooklyn and don’t have time or energy to pay attention to the very, very few people who live the “Brooklyn hipster” stereotype that the The New York Times loves to exploit. Oh, ok, cool. As you were then!
Except, wait. Because when I first saw “Creating Hipsturbia” in the Styles section, I thought to myself, Amazing. Here will be something great to blog about for Monday because it is written by Alex Williams and he is the fucking king of writing idiotic trend pieces about dating and, like, GIFs of all things and I bet there will be plenty of stupid things to be outraged about in here. And my first thought wasn’t entirely wrong. This article does have a lot of things that will quite literally make your eyes roll so far back into your head that your contact lens gets stuck up under your eyelid and you have to step away from your computer for the first time in several hours in order to wash it out with copious squirts of well-aimed saline solution. Or at least that’s what happened to me.
I mean, clearly, this article is just begging to be mocked and—more importantly—linked-to ad nauseum, so that we can all laugh at the woman who moved to Dobbs Ferry to sell “artisanal vegan soap” in an attempt to move the spirit of Brooklyn to small-town Westchester. Because, of course, artisanal vegan soap is an integral part of life for everyone who lives in Brooklyn. This article is ostensibly about how Brooklyn’s creative class is decamping for the suburbs of New York City and trying to craft their own version of Brooklyn on the streets of Hastings and Montclair. But what this article really feels like it’s about is blogger-baiting. I mean, you can practically see Alex Williams going down a checklist of things to incorporate for maximum outrage as he wrote it. Pretentious and stupid kids’ names? Check! (Yes, Denim and Bowie are real names, not my own perverse creations.) Mention of Dutch-style bikes? Check! Shout-out to gluten-free cupcakes? Check! Decorating with “bird silhouettes” and “felted-wool gazelle heads, for those who prefer their antlers cruelty-free”? Check and check! There’s even a dad with a “man-bun”, something else the Times has profiled before. So much to laugh at, where can I even begin?
Well, as it turns out, nowhere. Because after reading this article, I actually did something that very few Times trend pieces make me do—I thought about whether or not there was some interesting subtext beneath the layers of shit that comprise the surface of this article. And I rarely do that anymore when it comes to Times trend pieces, because there’s rarely anything else there. But besides using every possible hipster buzzword out there, Williams claims to be writing about the fact that creative professionals are being priced out of Brooklyn. Williams posits that the reason that all these people are having to recreate Brooklyn in Hudson River towns is because they were forced out for financial reasons. He writes, “As formerly boho environs of Brooklyn become unattainable due to creeping Manhattanization and seven-figure real estate prices, creative professionals of child-rearing age — the type of alt-culture-allegiant urbanites who once considered themselves too cool to ever leave the city — are starting to ponder the unthinkable: a move to the suburbs.”
Oh, so this is interesting, right? An exploration of the meteoric rise of real-estate prices in much of Brooklyn and its effect on the creative class is actually a fascinating premise for an in-depth article on the disappearance of the middle-class lifestyle in New York City. But this isn’t that. I mean, sure, the reason that some of these people—like the parents of young Denim and Bowie—say that they left Brooklyn is financially-related, but these aren’t exactly middle-class people. Or rather, they’re what the Times might consider middle-class—making about $200,000/year—but they’re not really living what most of New York City—median income about $50,000/year—would recognize as middle class. These are people who lived in Brooklyn because it represented some idea to them and have now moved to other places where they think they can perpetuate that same type of idea. Which explains why one woman is reluctant to give up her “Brooklyn phone number.” Because, wait. What does that even mean? That she is hanging on to the 718 area code on her cellphone so that when she gives her number to people in Hastings they’ll think she’s cool? This is the equivalent of leaving your ski lift tags on your jacket zipper for weeks after you go skiing. WE GET IT, YOU HAVE MONEY. GO GET SOME SCISSORS WITH YOUR MONEY AND CUT THOSE TAGS OFF. Sorry, that’s just something that really bothers me. Because, seriously, that’s some middle school-style bullshit.
Anyway! It’s pretty evident that the reason it was deemed acceptable by these people to leave Brooklyn and relocate to the suburbs was because there were people up there who were just like them. Nicole Mizoliek, acupuncturist and mother to Denim and Bowie, notes that, “We were the we’ll-never-leave-Brooklyn types,” but her mind swiftly changed when she visited Westchester and noticed, “some moms out in Hastings with their kids with tattoos. A little glimmer of Williamsburg!” So, because some women in Hastings had tattoos, she and her man-bun wearing husband purchased a nice, middle-class house for $860,000 where they and Denim and Bowie could live happily ever after. Which, I know that you can get more for your money in Hastings versus the more expensive parts of Brooklyn, but $860,000 is still a lot of money. Plus, as the article notes, the property taxes in Westchester are insane. What I’m saying is, this isn’t as simple as getting “priced out.” This is about choosing not to live in Brooklyn anymore—for a variety of reasons including “thumping roof parties” and “unruly students” at local Williamsburg public schools—but still wanting to seem cool. And, apparently, cool means vegan soap and a “Fernet Branca cocktail on the menu.”
And as far as these people being the type of people who thought they’d never leave Brooklyn, well, these are also the same type of people who thought they’d never leave Manhattan, until they realized that all their friends were moving to Brooklyn. These aren’t pioneers. These are people are terrified of turning into their parents or whatever, so they keep their man-buns and they reference Burning Man of all things. But the truth is that these supercool, die-hard Brooklynites are now, in fact, parents themselves. And as such, they’ve developed a bit of a conservative streak when it comes to what they can tolerate when raising their kids. Because here’s the thing about moving to a suburb like Hastings or Tarrytown or Chappaqua where I personally lived during my teenage years—these places are nothing like Brooklyn. Just because you can buy the same things in both places, it doesn’t mean that culturally or socially the places are all that similar. And, really, it’s gross to reduce Brooklyn to just a commercial enterprise. As Williams does point out in the article, in places like Hastings “the mood is still sleepy and commuter-oriented” and “the relative lack of racial diversity is striking to newcomers.” Except, is it? Is it really that striking to newcomer, Ari Wallach (a “futurism consultant” who calls Hastings “a village, in a Wittgensteinian sort of way”), who looked for a place to live based on the fact that “he saw Subarus parked on the streets, not Lexus SUVs.” Or maybe diversity is not what these people care about. Maybe, when it came time to raise their kids in Brooklyn, they did what generations of New York City-dwellers have done before them, they got the hell out in order to raise their kids in as privileged a place as they could possibly afford. Maybe these people are exactly the kind of opportunistic, superficial hipsters that we all think they are.
What I find so disturbing about this article is not just that it pretends to be about the struggling creative class being priced out of Brooklyn—although, yes, I do find it disturbing that owning a vegan soap store means that someone is in the creative class—but is actually the huge disservice that this article does to the people who are actually getting priced out of Brooklyn and New York City in general. I could really not care any less about people who maybe sort of want to stay in Brooklyn but don’t really care and can then afford to move to one of the wealthiest counties in the country as their back-up plan. What I care about are the people who can’t afford to move but can barely afford to stay here and are members of the creative class who NEED to live in New York City in order to make a career out of their creative talents. These are the people I want to read about. People who have jobs but still need to live with multiple roommates as they enter their thirties. People who can’t afford to break up with their boyfriend or girlfriend because they can’t swing the cost of rent on their own. People who have children and struggle to afford to live in good public school districts because there’s no way in hell they can afford private school. Where are the Times articles on those people? I bet some of them even have tattoos and use vegan soap or something.
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen