Creative Class: The Selflessness of Consumerism

Recently, I was reading the June 27th issue of The New Yorker, which is like totally crazy, since it's only the 22nd. My best guess is that it fell through a wormhole in time, which would explain why the magazine was sort of wet and wrinkly--though that could also be because I do the majority of my reading in the bathroom. Anyway, in this Magazine from the Future is (or will be) an article by Nicholas Lemann called "Get Out of Town: Has the celebration of cities gone too far?," and it's sort of a roundup of various books about the state of cities and urban living in the 21st century.

One of the writers Lemann talks about in the article is someone called Richard Florida, who puts forth the notion of a "Creative Class." The "Super-Creative Core" of the Creative Class apparently consists of people like scientists, architects, academics, and artists. Then, the rest of the Creative Class is made up of "managers, lawyers, accountants, and so on."

"The key factor in determining whether a city is successful," explains Lemann of Florida's idea, "is how significant a cohort of the Creative Class it attracts." Furthermore, he adds that "you would have thought it was dull Babbitts who made a city commercially successful, but no--it's kids with scruffy beards and tattoos who have alt-rock bands, script iPhone apps, and wait tables in vegan restaurants."

In other words, Lemann is saying that the Creative Class consists of the people commonly referred to as "hipsters."

Now, Lemann may be simplifying Florida's concept a bit. Firstly, I've never met a hipster scientist--unless you consider "mixology" a science. Secondly, I'm not so sure it makes sense to lump accountants in with the Creative Class, since a creative accountant is technically a member of the criminal class. Still, what Lemann is saying (or at least what he's saying that Florida is saying) is that hipsters make cities rich:

What's the connection between them and prosperity? (Their parents are probably asking the same question.) They generate an atmosphere of cultural richness and innovation that attracts more obviously productive types, who have lots of choices about where to live and will pick places they find exciting and attractive.

Here in New York City, gentrification is one of our most popular spectator sports, so there's nothing new to us about the concept that trendy neighborhoods ultimately attract people with money. What I did find intriguing, though, was the idea that hipsters "generate an atmosphere of cultural richness and innovation," and it's one that's both comforting and disturbing.

Increasingly, people either like to say that the word "hipster" is no longer relevant, or that it's petty to make the distinction. However, I think it's foolish to ignore a pop cultural phenomenon that's so readily apparent, and that for better or worse will define this time period in the same way hippies defined the 1960s or yuppies defined the 1980s. Moreover, I'd argue that most people have a visceral reaction when they enter a neighborhood like Williamsburg and see, say, a recent Bard graduate loitering in front of a high-end coffee shop with a $4,000 track racing bicycle and a set of brass knuckles tattooed on his arm. It's hard not to be amazed at the irony.

However, for me at least, the idea that these people are simply "generating an atmosphere" somehow makes my own reaction less visceral. Previously when I saw someone like that, I thought they were appropriating a lifestyle with which they had no experience in order to fool people into thinking they were "authentic," and I found this simultaneously humorous and infuriating. Now, though, I realize they're providing "atmosphere," and that they're kind of like real-life movie extras whose purpose is to foster prosperity by visually enhancing a neighborhood so that it attracts "more obviously productive types."

Sure, this notion may be depressing, but at least it makes sense. These people aren't cultural con artists. Rather, they're unwitting dupes who serve as attractive ground cover and eventually become the cultural mulch that fertilizes neighborhoods for the wealthier people who will inevitably supplant them.

They're certainly doing their job well, too. The person with the expensive bike and the expensive brass knuckle tattoo is ideal fauna for the streets of Williamsburg, and he looks just as at home in front of an old building covered in "street art" as he does in the lobby of a building full of overpriced "luxury lofts." His "ink" is the sort of stylized criminal imagery that denizens of such neighborhoods feel comfortable referencing since they enjoy the aesthetics yet are confident that they'll never actually have to encounter it. He's exactly the sort of bandit a wealthy urbanite wants to encounter: he looks like a hoodlum, but the most subversive act of which he's capable is making them a sub-par latte.

For the same reason, I was similarly vexed by the "bike culture," which is certainly a subculture of the Creative Class and which seems to communicate almost entirely in the language of Product. It's a world of "dropping" and "swooping" and "re-ups" and "bike checks" and "edits" depicting the worst sort of two-wheeled fatuousness. Naively, I once thought, "Don't people ever tire of the new shiny things? What's so interesting about a portrait of a bicycle belonging to a person who can barely ride? Since when did product promotion become art? And how many bags is is possible to own anyway?"

But then I realized something: being attractive urban fauna is work. It's essential that people be told what to ride and how to ride and what to wear what to carry and how to carry it. It's also essential that they see pictures of other people doing it so they can copy the bikes and the bags and the clothing and the tattoos, so that the "atmosphere of cultural richness" strikes exactly the right heady balance that makes lawyers want to buy condos. Really, it's incredibly selfless of people to spend so much time, energy, and money on primping so that our cities become more attractive to people with money. Thank you, human wallpaper, for doing what you do so well.

Speaking of Williamsburg, the Brooklyn Paper reports that it now has more bike shops than Park Slope:

In the spectator sport of New York City gentrification, you're supposed to hate Williamsburg because of all the hipsters, and you're supposed to hate Park Slope because of all the yuppies and babies. Therefore, publications like the Brooklyn Paper must occasionally stir things up with titillating passages like this:

Silk Road’s Brendon Nicholas is not surprised — he argues that Williamsburg has more commuters while the Slope is riddled with “club riders” who train for cycling races or travel in packs like feral mammals around Prospect Park.

It's worth noting that all Brendon Nicholas said was "club riders," and that the reporter seems to have added the "travel in packs like feral mammals" part. Also, evidently it never occurred to the reporter that the people who ride in Prospect Park come there from other neighborhoods--including Williamsburg. However, I was interested to learn that the hipsterization of the Rockaways seems to be driving Williamsburgers away from fixed-gears:

“You don’t have as much here, you have more leisurely riding where people ride out to the beach on a road bike,” said Nicholas. “We’re seeing the trend toward single speed bicycles with breaks — bicycles that coast.”

Once they started riding more than two miles at a time, it had to happen...but "breaks?" Evidently the Brooklyn Paper uses the same style manual as the New York Post.

Anyway, in addition to calling Park Slopers "feral," the Brooklyn Paper claims that Williamsburgers are the better commuters:

Williamsburg has long been home to the city’s most committed commuters.

More than 6,200 people ride over the Williamsburg Bridge each day according to city transportation studies — nearly equaling the number of riders who cross either the Manhattan Bridge or Brooklyn Bridge each day.

If the Williamsburg Bridge sees fewer cyclists than either the Manhattan or Brooklyn bridges, how then is Williamsburg "home to the city's most committed commuters?" Anyway, how do you know where the people who ride over the Williamsburg Bridge are actually from? I use it fairly often, yet I don't live anywhere near the place. But perhaps the most confusing passage in the article was this:

Bike shops in Williamsburg and Greenpoint sell many fixed gears and single speeds while Park Slope shops often sell 21 to 27 speeds to riders who need to climb the neighborhood’s hills.

Ah yes, the famous hills of Park Slope. Who is selling new bikes with 21 speeds anyway? I think the only place you can get one of those now is Walmart:

Speaking of bikes that will help feral yuppies conquer the hills, a reader has forwarded me the most ridiculously Cat 6-tastic bicycle ever "curated:"

Here's what it was designed for:

Specific parameters: Stealth commuter. Half country roads, half urban Boston. 13 miles each way. No fenders. Titanium.

Gruelling. And here's the backstory:

One of the wonderful things about this build was how much freedom we were given (within a specific set of parameters) to create this bike for it’s owner. Alongside the basics of geometry, fit and construction we dealt with interpreting more ethereal parameters like feelings, attitude, likes, dislikes, design sense, specifics of the environment and a lot more. It was a long conversation(s) and it really became one of those magic moments that we strive for as framebuilders. Really getting to know someone, in an intense biomechanical/psychological kind of way.

I wonder why it took a bunch of "long conversation(s)" for this person to tell the builders that he wanted the world's most expensive Specialized Sirrus. It seems to me he could have communicated that in a single text message. Anyway, when you interpret "etherial parameters like feelings, attitude, likes, dislike, design sense, specifics of the environment and a lot more," you apparently wind up with a hybrid bike with Di2:

Yes, it has crabon wheels and electric shifting integrated into the handlebars, but it doesn't have fenders. I also don't know where he's supposed to carry his stuff, but maybe someone's sewing him a $9,000 LeSportsac.

If it were my bike I'd get "If it rains take the bus" engraved in the top tube.

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