Monday, May 9, 2011

Ideas for a New City

I went to the Festival of Ideas to find out what the (mostly) young New Yorkers of today hope for the New York of the future.

So far, the city of tomorrow looks a lot like college life in the Pacific Northwest. It also looks a lot like hipster and brownstone Brooklyn. Which is to say there will be a big emphasis on bicycling, artisanal everything, knitting, gardening, kombucha, and making "no-food processor pesto with park-foraged dandelion and rooftop-grown arugula."



One idea was to make smoothies with a blender powered by a bicycle. Another idea was to turn the subway into a green market complete with amenities like aromatherapy, massage chairs, free wi-fi, and baby-friendly breast-feeding stations.



Much of the Festival of Ideas was given over to foodism, with "Food Tarot" readings and food porn--literally, in one case, as a "peep booth" peeped onto a computer monitor showing videos of cooking food. As usual, tons of people waited in lines for Brooklyn-branded beverages and other edibles.

A popsicle artisan was shaving a big block of ice to make icees flavored with Bartlett pear and other syrups. Passersby marveled aloud at what they seemed to think was a rare and antiquated craft. Of course, on any warm day on the Lower East Side, plenty of local men and women push their carts through the streets, loaded with syrup bottles and big blocks of ice they shave by hand. They don't display antique ice hooks, though, and none of their flavors include basil.



But the idea that most grabbed my attention was Tentstop, "an urban, portable campground facility for NYC." Turning the city into a big campground, Tentstop imagines people sleeping in tents in Central Park and on the streets, sitting around handmade fires, swimming in Dumpsters, and "foraging" at local bodegas. This was once simply called "Homelessness."



"New York Is a Friendly Town" said a sign on the wall of one tent, reminding me of the "Wisco Nice" phenomenon that is sweeping the city. The entire Festival of Ideas, in fact, was very nice. Very friendly and nice, filled with well-meaning, good people. How can you be critical of gardens and bicycles? They're so nice.

The question is: How urban are they?


Urban Disorientation Game

This was the Festival of Ideas for a New City, and yet nothing really brought the idea of a city to mind. I thought instead of forests, suburban backyards, small town picnics, college campuses with vast greens, rocking chairs on front porches, apple-picking farms--all very nice things. Good things. Things one might take a day, or a whole weekend, outside of the city to enjoy. But are these the reasons we live in New York?


See also:
Gated New York
Suburbanization of New York
Wisco Nice
The Joneses Are Here

57 comments:

Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

Makes you want to throw up.

Bryan said...

Teri Tynes & I met up for lobster rolls at the fair. (Brooklyn-branded or not, I won't refuse a lobster roll.) We talked abt the artisanal this and thatness and how the foodists can be annoying, but one thing we did appreciate (at least I'll speak for myself in saying so) was seeing community-based groups, including organizations designed to protest lower income housing or to preserve neighborhood history, scattered among the arts and crafts. I especially liked the orientation toward neighborhood storytelling/history from Travelgoat, Broadcastr, and Story Corps.

Personally, I don't mind the idea of rooftop gardens and easier biking in the city. I even like Kombucha. It agree that it can get a little oppressive if the new New York is all you have at your disposal, but I'll take artisanal foodstuffs over another Chase ATM outpost or a Duane Reade any day.

I missed the bike-powered smoothies, though. Oy. Were they the same people who had the bike-powered sewing machines and wool all over the ground?

Bryan said...

p.s. I thought you might appreciate this particular idea -- thought of you when I posted it.

http://twitter.com/#!/_waterman/status/66908497584984064

Crazy Eddie said...

"This town needs an enema!"

EV Grieve said...

I hope the city of the future includes a decent place for take-out Chinese on my block. And a laundromat.

City Of Strangers said...

Damn. I was kicking myself for missing this now I'm glad I didn't go. In fact, I'm glad that the one afternoon I went into Manhattan INTENDING to go, I got sidetracked by my favorite dive bar which, after reading this, was a much more worthwhile experience.

This artisanal thing . . . they're popping up all over Bed-stuy and it's great and everything,I used to be a cook, I like quality food - but what's remarkable is how most make almost no attempt to cater to the non-gentrifying class. A curious trend . . .

t.

Jeremiah Moss said...

Bryan, you bring up my favorite old false dichotomy, that our choices are only artisanal or Duane Reade--which is to say, either high-end independents or mega-chains. we must have other choices--which is what, i think, those community preservation groups are fighting for. and it was good to see them at the fair.

the bike-powered smoothie people and the piles of wool people were different--but there was a lot of that going around. kind of Burning Mannish?

Bryan said...

Oops: "designed to protest lower income housing"

protest s/b protect. Ouch.

Shorter version of my comment above: Artisanal foodies vs hedgefund managers -- which would you rather have move into your building?

Jeremiah Moss said...

that's a little like the old game "fork in the eye." would you rather eat glass or...

Bryan said...

But only one of those groups would be likely to share if they had surplus produce from the week's CSA share.

Teri Tynes said...

Yes, Bryan and I stood on the corner of Rivington and Chrystie and talked about the meaning of all this. I found several ideas at the festival I liked, and yes, much of them had to do with green markets, green bodegas (there are projects to cater to non-gentrifiers in underserved areas), green mapping, etc. And the performance art. Love all that.

As someone who went to college in the 1970s and an idealistic hopeful progressive -still am, I identify with and want to hug all these young ones and their artisanal products, no matter what they look like or what part of the country they come from. Tired of asphalt, I'm ready to plant seeds with them.

Bowery Boogie said...

My first impression was also that of a Brooklyn takeover. Was nice to see the affordable housing advocates and BAN on the Bowery.

And had the same reaction to the ice shavers. One need only walk a few blocks east to find the old men and their carts. A fraction of the cost, too.

Ken Mac said...

I'm with Grieve, and add to that a locksmith, bookstore, and someone who sharpens knives.

I like food, but foodies are a self centered look-at-me lot.

Anonymous said...

"Artisanal foodies vs hedgefund managers -- which would you rather have move into your building?"

Q: Where would you rather live -- Asheville or Singapore? A: Neither, if I wanted to live in either, I'd move there.

maximum bob said...

Moonbat Central...nauseating...
I'm with Mick...

Anonymous said...

I didn't see much of the street fair, but I caught the lecture of Jaron Lanier in Cooper Union which was pretty fantastic (he's basically an anti-facebook, crowdsourcing, twitter-fragmentary-thinking etc...author, but criticizing from within the tech community). I think that the theme of the architecture lectures (the keynote was by Koolhaas) was preservation, which is pretty sympatico with a lot of the sentiment on this blog...granted when I went to the New Amsterdam market last weekend and saw a mustachioed hipster shaving a block of ice I wanted to punt him into the river. Nevertheless, I don't think this festival was all bad in the least.

Erika said...

Stop trying to turn NYC into Portland, please. I enjoy escaping into the countryside from NYC sometimes, but I like the clear boundaries -- the city is a bustling, URBAN place full of concrete and grime, but it's also full of smart, interesting, refreshingly opinionated people, different cultures, museums, and amazing amounts of history. It's VERY different from the countryside and it should stay that way.

JAZ said...

Mykola sums up my feelings perfectly on this one.

I really think the suburbanization of Manhattan has gotten way out of hand.

Jeremiah Moss said...

i'm sorry i missed the Lanier talk, would've liked to hear that.

a festival not "all bad," for sure. if we see it as what it purports to be, a vision of New York's future, then we see there's just not much "New York" in that future, and a whole lot of Portland, Oregon.

again, why come to the city, why live in the city, if you prefer the town and country life? this is a brick wall i can't stop hitting.

Bryan said...

This isn't a suburbanization issue. It's not like these folks want to bring in the Olive Garden. We need more specific ways to talk about it than that.

Jeremiah Moss said...

Bryan, can you write a book about this? or get one of your academic friends to write it? there is something distinctly anti-urban in this stuff, but it resists critique very well, because how does one decry "good" things like bicycles and green plants? and yet there has to be a way to critique it, from a pro-city stance.

most likely, the way to go about it is by talking about class--this stuff is largely classist. it says, in essence, that the educated and moneyed elites know what's best for everyone.

anyway, i know there's a fly in this ointment, i just can't put my finger on it quite.

Richard Bensam said...

So you're saying the dream of the 90s is alive in the New York of the future?

JAZ said...

The way I look at it is even though there isn't anything inherently evil with wanting a bigger lane so you can ride your bike comfortably, or wanting to grow healthy greens on some rooftop in North Brooklyn, these things are symptomatic of the gentrification that has watered down the character of so many neighborhoods. There is a desperate need for attention that comes with so much of this, that makes the effort come off as superficial.

When I was a little kid, my grandfather grew tomatos and string beans on a little strip of land on the side of his house in Manhattan Beach. Other neighbors grew different things, and they would just trade these with each other. They never thought to call attention to themselves or create an identity out of it.

In 2011, when the gentrificationers plant something, it immediately gets placed on their blog, and flyers are put up in the local $6 soy latte emporium, where they take great pains to mention over and over about how they are supporting 'local farmers markets, etc etc', and they bask in a self-identification as an 'urban farmer'.

When I was growing up, there were always a good amount of people relocating to NYC from other places - the difference was that they mostly seemed to just want to assimilate into their new surroundings, and their addition was a plus - they are just as much New Yorkers as me in my book. It now seems that the current wave wants to come here to use NYC as a coffee table conversation piece.

Unfortunately, I think I've just done nothing but prove that Jeremiah is correct - it is hard to put your finger on. Hopefully readers smarter than myself can at least understand what I'm trying to say.

esquared said...

it's not the suburbanization of nyc (as bryan has mentioned); it's the artisanalization and the anti-urbanization/ anti-grittization of a city, namely nyc

also, most of the ideas presented, e.g. the aromatherapy, the artisanal food and beverages (for example a 12oz. glass of chai tea full of ice were selling for $5 at the fair), kombucha, etc., should they come into fruition,(and as much as admire that there were organizations designed to protest lower income housing), the low-income and the average nyer won't be able to afford these organic products or services; these will only be affordable by the trust-funders and the yuppies

so, if i were living paycheck to paycheck, and when it comes to feeding myself or my family, and the it's a choice between a $8.99/pound artisanal salad/food at Whole Foods vs. >$5 meal at a KFC or Burger King or any other chain food store, i'm sorry to say that i'll have to choose the latter

i think some of the ideas at the festival were great, but unless they are affordable to the most nyers, and without them being just another fad thing for the sheeples and yunnies to consume, they'll remain just an idea.

Marty Wombacher said...

"One idea was to make smoothies with a blender powered by a bicycle. Another idea was to turn the subway into a green market complete with amenities like aromatherapy, massage chairs, free wi-fi, and baby-friendly breast-feeding stations."

Excuse me, I have to go throw up now. I had a salad for lunch, so at least it'll be green.

lsr said...

i think JN is bothered w/the same thing i am. that there is little balance, & the ethnic & immigrant & small business places are leaving. besides us getting a better deal (like the ices) these people earn a living this way. & NYC has hunrads of cultures which make it NY! & most important, we are losing PRACTICAL everyday businesses like tailor locksmith shoe repair laundry. is that it JN? i myself love fresh markets on the street. roof gardens are beautiful. but i have no interest or patience for trendy silly overpriced pretentious stuff. (& having it take the place or real life)- whether its some $40 pilates class, $80 "spa" pedicures, $20 soaps, made in the rain forest by indigenous tribal oppressed- please...... if its "that" OR a burger king, i will take "that". but those limited options kill NYC. someone mentioned ashville?? thats the place where older hippy types live? these people are so NOT new york. they hate new york, & people like me. i knew them in boston in the 70s & 80s. i knew them in the late 60s when i spent 2 days in berkeley, they have younger versions now. p.s. as for this bike lane bullshit, well i don't like all those neon & generic signs. i rode a bike in NYC/boston from 1971 up to 2003. i never needed a lane.

Bowery Boy said...

It's not so much that I have a problem with the Festival. I just wish that it did not take place on the street where I live. It just invites the attention of outsider developers & real estate crud and gives the local property owners big money ideas. I hate it that the very organization that purports to help artists is the very one who is driving the local artists who've lived here for decades out of the area we loved when no one else did.

Tricia said...

I'm sooo tired of hearing the word "artisanal" and it's being used for everything under the sun! At first, didn't it refer to cheese?

Anonymous said...

The thought of breast feeding my baby on the subway makes me want to hurl.

Jeremiah Moss said...

lsr, yes, balance is key. this feels like aggressive takeover by a monoculture--and not just the fest, but a decade of this stuff building and building.

Tricia and Anon, if we combined your two comments, we could have a subway where people are making artisanal human breastmilk cheese. how about that? not so farfetched, considering it's been done, except not on the subway. yet.

Joe said...

I don't get it. What could possibly be wrong with adding a little of the "college life in the Pacific Northwest", an area of the country associated with a period in people's lives in which people are hungry for knowledge and a culture based in community, anti-establishment viewpoints, education, respect for the environment, self-reflection, healthy living and things that must
make "Mick" "want to throw up" like independent film-making, hobbies based in solitary activity and creativity, and poetry.

I was at the NYC ARTS Digital Media Booth all day, encouraging people to use NYC ARTS to take advantage of the 1400+ arts groups in their
city, because I believe in the power of culture. Jeremiah, I agree with you that New York--and
this entire country as many people would like to think of it--is vanishing. But it's not banishing
because Creative Good is hosting an alternative Think Tank or the Laundromat Project wants
people in the Bronx to have exposure to art while they're doing their laundry. It's because we live in a society where everyone from Christian conservatives to Bed Stuy hipsters either love or hate something or someone, and there's little in-between. Instead of ripping apart this city you call home with time spent on posting comments like "this city needs an enema", in an effort to make yourself look like some clever marginalized, under-appreciated non-conformist (i.e., "cool"), may i suggest looking closely at the work presented by the hundreds of people who spent their weekends--and lives, for that matter--presenting their ideas for how to bring you a better quality of life.

Is it possible I could get you to engage in a respectful, productive dialogue? I personally think that this city and country are f(*&ed without the perspectives of artists and the cultural institutions which connect them to the rest of us. do you agree? Does that even register, or is the music in your idealized dive bar distraction too alluring? If you're so brill, have all the answers and find shame in the habits of college students in the Pacific Northwest, put down the bowl (or pass it to me), knock the chip off your shoulder and listen to your neighbors a little more
closely before you stand in judgment of the only type of thinking that will save us from nasty, scary things like Fox News, suicide bombers and international chaos.

Bryan said...

I'll say again, too, b/c I think it got lost in the shuffle: I really had a great day at the fair. But I think I avoided most of what you chose to highlight. I went to some galleries, ate a lobster roll, talked to some creative people, admired the historical walking tours produced by Story Corps, Broadcastr, and Travelgoat. LEHSP was there too. I really liked the people I met a the Travelgoat booth. Their Time Traveler's Guide to the Bowery was pretty cool, I thought. I like it when I meet people who dig the same history I do.

Anonymous said...

@Joe, Wow, that was ahh real passionate. What ticked you off? A few marginalized people on a blog with fewer resources than you complaining about the overwhelming arrogance enveloping this city. The whole "artisanal" thing is corny and overdone. Your anti-establishmnent views very one dimensional and misplaced. Many people in this city were anti-establishment long before many of you sub-urban ice shaving settlers came along and not to mention hella people with limited resources were creating powerful art all over the place without the need to announce “hey, this is art, you need this.” Joe, you're the one who is not listening. Many people born and raised in this city like myself do not want or need your education or to look at art while I do laundry (I am from the South Bronx, BTW) – as if the Bronx is devoid of beauty and art that it needs a load of arrogance and entitlement in the guise of goodwill to show people in the Bronx what art looks like. You have no idea of the creative, resourceful shoulders you stand on because New York has been so over-developed that it’s turned from brown (and I mean all shades of that) to green. You want to help me get a better quality of life? Go back to the suburbs but before that pay my rent.

Bryan said...

Part of the problem here is defining "hipster." This Guardian piece on williamsburg is interesting in that regard:

http://bit.ly/gJEPWk

Here hipsters are the ones who hate Duane Reade moving in. But their solution is artisanal this and that.

I don't think anti-industrial or locally grown/produced food is necessarily anti-urban: people have had community gardens and grown shit on fire escapes and run CSAs for a long time in NY. Most of those things actually foster community. (I like belonging to the Stanton St CSA.) The problem has to do with the hypercommodification of the local. Community gardens were probably pioneered by hipster/hippie newcomers, but they also seem to have been more inclusive than high-end luxury artisanal stuff tends to be. I have no problem with someone wanting to be a butcher. Just don't price out the old-school butcher. Isn't there room for the old-school and the new Turks to meet and meet the needs of a broad range of neighbors?

Here's an idea for the new city: Why not offer 50% discounts at Whole Foods and the Greenmarkets to people in section 8 housing? And bring back Guss's Pickles?

Jeremiah Moss said...

what is "brill"?

Jeremiah Moss said...

"If the whole country feels like Portland these days, it's because there has been an Oregon-ization of America."

http://www.details.com/culture-trends/critical-eye/201008/artisanal-america-handmade-hipster-authentic

LSR said...

joe: we dont a "college town" boston is a college town. anon 8:53pm is correct. we dont need you. we want to be left alone. let the people who use that laundry in the bronx decorate it the way THEY want. get it???? but yes things change. i didnt go to the fair, maybe some of it was good. in boston they did those similar "art" things. kind of school-ish. i prefered the sprayed graffiti art (tags) that the B boys & breakers rappers put on the walls. in roxburry, mission hill etc. this derived naturally from self expression, boston hood city life. these people were doing amazing creative stuff w/music/dance. there is too much childish pretentious in your face stuff these days. like do what you do & get on w/it. leave the laundry alone. as JAZ said, theres a "desperate need for attention". & no i dont go to dive bars, dont like dirt/grime, & dont like some of the comments here either.

Anonymous said...

well, i moved from pdx in 1995 after only 2 years. got as far as rust belt town, then not that long ago made it here. way back then i did not like the pdx feeling. plus it's very white. at least i know i'm not imagining things. and i grew up working class and moved here tooth and nail in ways that people used to. no school, no trust fund, no parents, no network no nada. very little money saved and on the seat of my pants b/c i wanted to be in an interesting city that i was not going to colonize. i don't understand how this pdx'ing of this city is happening. i moved away from there to get away from it. but i could only afford to live way out in queens near the long island border because that's where you can afford to live now. a nowhere land between urban and the suburban you wanted to move away from. there's no way to really do it any more. hour long commutes still technically in the city and periously close to the suburb you want to move away from. it's horrible the luxification WTFification it is. we will all be squeezed between the "cool" boroughs and Long Island until it evaporates.

Zach said...

It's not worth picking fights with these kids. They cling to tripe sub-cultures they read about in magazines because their desperate souls don't have a choice. To be able to live and work in Manhattan you have to be either a.) corrupt b.) in some sort of subsidized or rent control arrangement or c.) hopelessly indoctrinated. I'm sorry to point this out but you don't move to Manhattan anymore to take on the system. So they're here because their employers are here and because of the value added effect of clustering. But the absurdity of foot pedal blenders aside, the neophytes are actually doing you and I a great service. By choosing to live in cities instead of suburbs as their parents did they are reducing the amount of greenhouse gasses being released into the atmosphere by a great deal. On average New Yorkers contribute 7.1 metric tons per capita of heat trapping gases to the earth's atmosphere annually where the average American contributes 24.5 metric tons. (David Owen The Green Metropolis, pp 8-9) Manhattanites contribute even less because of the inherent efficiencies of living vertically in small spaces and without cars. The lack of cars is really the key here. So, while you may not have a problem with rising sea levels encroaching on the island's coastline and reclaiming posh areas like Battery Park City, you'll see Sty Town go as well. And you'll probably get breast milk squirted in your eye at least once because you'll be forced to live among the lactaters. And then you'll vomit on the baby. And then you'll go to jail. So PLEASE, stop sneering at people who belong right where they are, living in cities, earning a livelihood like everybody else. Notions of what it means to behave and live in a city are besides the point. Nobody's gonna care about the Mars Bar when Earth is underwater. You may chose to live in another city which is a little less annoying and but much less beneficial to humanity.

A suggestion to fellow readers: Why not concentrate your energy solely on the documentation and preservation of the cultural capital which you and your neighbors accumulated from the period of the mid to late 20th century rather than mourning its loss? It may be time to stop thinking about demise and start thinking about legacy. They kids may even thank you one day.

Zach said...

I just want to add that I love this blog and what it represents. I've never had the actual pleasure of experiencing a small fraction of the times, places, attitudes or events this site documents so well; although I've been doing it vicariously for years as a captivated reader. As phony as it sounds I can't even begin to feel your loss. Best regards, Zach

Uncle Waltie said...

Love that picture of those blindfolded kids playing the "Urban Disorientation Game". Hehehe....I remember getting disoriented without blindfolds during certain Happy Hours.

Jeremiah Moss said...

Anon 11:06, when you say, "i don't understand how this pdx'ing of this city is happening. i moved away from there to get away from it," that's the crux, and i can't understand it either.

people who emigrated to NYC used to come in flight, to escape what they left behind--whether it was political oppression in another country or personal oppression in small-town America. now this has changed, rapidly and massively, as young people come with the INTENTION of recreating their hometowns in the city. colonization is the right word. there is something imperialistic about all of this.

witness Little Wisco:

http://vanishingnewyork.blogspot.com/2011/01/wisco-nice.html

http://vanishingnewyork.blogspot.com/2010/09/little-wisconsin.html

will the East Village soon be dubbed Little Portland?

Bryan said...

WTFification is my new favorite neologism!

The Portlandification problem is separate from the Dubaification, and organic kim-chee vendors are a different beast than Varvatos. I'm not trying to set up more false dichotomies or choices btwn evils (sorry, JM, for asking you to eat glass or poke a fork in your eye) but I do think it's worth noting that the former would probably preserve existing structures rather than build new steel & glass monstrosities and I'd rather have people brewing Kombucha than building bombs.

Maybe there's some room for compromise here? I'd like to see the return-to-earthers who want to take up traditional trades as a means of personal or spiritual fulfillment do so by apprenticing with old-timers--the old-school barbers, butchers, cobblers, repair shops that still exist. Is it possible to convince the entrepreneurial hipsters that neighborhoods already have existing social structures worth protecting, rather than replicating in boutique form?

Jeremiah Moss said...

Kombucha or bombs? Bryan, with that false choice, you bring us one step closer to Godwin's Law, which states: "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches."

now, if only someone would use the sentence, "I don't want my neighborhood taken over by Kombucha Nazis."

and your suggestion about hipsters protecting existing social structures is a good one. is it possible?

Anonymous said...

...your suggestion about hipsters protecting existing social structures is a good one. is it possible?

Even if we recognize that the hipster/artisanal crowd is not the class enemy, my answer to this question is "no." And my answer is based not upon a premeditated dislike of these kids -- that's not something I'll go into here -- but a cool assessment of politico-economic dynamics.

Hipster artisan business are purposively design-intensive, customized-ingredient businesses... obviously. To be profitable, they have to charge premium prices. Their customer base necessarily consists, at least in great part, of the monied bobos who follow in their train -- and eventually push the hipster artisans out of the neighborhoods they initially "reclaimed" (sic). It's all part of the same well-documented gentrification cycle that's been going on in NYC for 30-40 years. We can't fairly blame the hipster artisans for it -- they didn't invent it. But they are perpetuators of it, if lower-rung perpetuators -- however benign (or narcissistic!) their intentions.

Bryan said...

I can't help it. The problem is I secretly like Kombucha. And I usually do like hipsters more than stockbrokers. I also am skeptical about claims to authenticity, whether they come from the artisanal side or from those who want to preserve their own particular sense of place and past.

I do appreciate you pushing me to think outside the false choices, though.

Is it possible to help hipsters assimilate into their neighborhoods? My guess is it happened in the 70s and 80s to some small degree at least. It usually happens by making friends with your shoe guy or finding out where the old people go for a sandwich.

Have you ever seen this "How to Live in a City" film? I love the footage of old guys playing Bocce where the Whole Foods now is.

It has a weird sense of "us" and "them," with them being immigrants or anyone with discernible ethnicity. But the gist is that people need to appreciate cities for aspects are intrinsically urban:

http://youtu.be/2Je6Dko6mm4

Jill said...

If this represents the present/future, then maybe what we saw at that festival, all in one place, is a new definition of "urban." It's a real cultural shift in what people living here in the city are thinking about and spending their money on (presumably).

As NY gets whiter and whiter, and richer and richer, the market will find new ways to spend money, and it is now beyond necessities - those seem to be covered quite well. So what do we do with our extra money? We find little flavors of deliciousness to get excited about. It's like truffle hunting 24/7.

If we remember such a festival 30 years ago, what did it look like? My mind's eye sees organizations trying to integrate and educate recent immigrants, feed the hungry, house the poor, expose kids to art, plant urban gardens, promote heathy exercise (Jane Fonda tapes!), reduce blood pressure, maybe sell some literary or political magazines.

It feels, by the nature of this festival, and by the new culture that is sprouting around us, that we have mostly solved the issues of what we always thought of as an urban culture. I am pretty sure it's not true, but it sure feels that way.

I would like to see some real statistics on this issue--has NY truly entered a phase where all problems are solved, so we can now waste our time and money on very expensive micro-greens and fancy ass pickles and other things that define the new white urban culture crave?

Have we truly kicked out the poverty, moved them along to somewhere else (upstate?) so that we can get on with our single minded business of spending our money on things we don't need?

Also, is this is happening in Philadelphia and Baltmore too? Have they lost their urban edge?

This festival raises way more questions than it answers.

Jeremiah Moss said...

"Their customer base necessarily consists, at least in great part, of the monied bobos who follow in their train"

"maybe what we saw at that festival, all in one place, is a new definition of 'urban.'"

great points. the definition of urban, according to many (most?) of this fest's participants, is definitely different than what it recently meant and what it means to me and many others.

the customers follow the products and vice versa. through supply and demand--for fancy pickles and cardamom-infused chocolates, luxury goods--this demographic is changing the city into something previously considered un-citylike. remember that Bloomberg sees the city as a luxury product in itself.

those of us who want to live in a city that looks and feels and functions like the cities we've known all our lives are SOL.

PS: thanks, Bryan, for the video link--watching it out now. the bocce players remind me of my grandfather.

Anonymous said...

Leave me and The City the fuck alone.

everettsville said...

This is probably the most enaging and incisive comment thread I've seen in ~2 years of reading this blog regularly. We're trying to get to the heart of this cultural/economic shift that seems to be happening and what it all means.

Here's my on-the-one hand, then on-the-other-hand take (which could be totally off because I have no insider knowledge of this subculture):

Positive - These kids/people/artisans/hipters/whatever are in active rebellion against the faceless, soul-destroying, mega-corporate suburban environments in which they were raised in the 90s and 00s. They're desperate for an alternative to a life spent walking through parking lots, standing in line at Old Navy and dining at Olive Garden. They've earned their college degrees in marketing/advertising/design both as a means of economic survival and as a conscious ALTERNATIVE to becoming investment bankers.

Negative - Because they were born too late, they've never known the traditional urban lifestyles that many of us have known and wish to retain and so there's no way that they can promote or embody those lifestyles. Simply living in Brooklyn instead of [insert nightmare American suburb here] is a victory in itself. As for the preciousness and the look-at-me aspect of their endeavors...I don't know...I think it may have something to do with Facebook or the overall prevalence of conspicuous self-promotion in our culture in general. They've absorbed it from childhood on.

Anon @9:22 said it very well in regards to the economic angle.

Anonymous said...

It seems like the speaking and art events around the neighborhood were the real bread and butter of this festival, the street fair was just icing on the cake. Events at Theater for a New City, Abrons Art Center, The New Museum, forums on preservation, sustainability, the effect of new networks on community: all this seems to be about opening the conversation. Bobo initiative or not, judging from the list of participating organizations, it looks like a lot of different neighborhood group were invited to bring something to this event. It seems like that is exactly what this blog is often asking for.

As far as the artisanal thing goes, I think the idea is that if everyone got on board with csas, community gardening, local production, the costs could be much lower and it could truly be a sustainable model. It's good that people see it as a political issue, and advocate for moving in that direction. The problem is that we're nowhere near that reality and some of these "advocates," who can afford to buy local, etc now, get a holier-than-thou attitude and don't realize that their politically (possibly even morally, ethically) correct habits are only possible because of their economic privilege. You end up with a lot of well-intentioned snobs.

Erik said...

The problems that everyone complain about with this fair are mostly much larger than these kids. They're trying to fight a system that is larger than them.

From reading the comments, the problems that they were addressing AND many of the complaints in the comments come down to income and wealth inequality, mass consumerism, and industrial food.

These three things taken together are a horribly complicated picture, but really represent the reality of American life today, and New York City focuses these problems even more. It's no surprise that the response from these kids is mostly non-coherent, and in many cases, just silly. But they are trying. Idealistic youth.

The $9 salad at Whole Foods IS much better for you than the $5 KFC bucker, and in the LONG term that type of lifestyle is cheaper, but who can afford to live that way when wages are so bad for the average person?

What about buying healthy food and cooking for your family at home? That's the best compromise to get health and lower cost. Who has the time, when a corporate job requires 8am - 7pm hours and "always on" accessibility and when a low-wage job pays so little that you need three of them.

What about our entire food budget? Our grandparents spent 30% of their income on food and we spend around 10% yet we complain. Part of it is that we spend so much on housing, thanks to the bankers and their games, and in NYC it's a double-whammy because all of the new hosing is upper-end trying to attract those same people so no one builds simple and affordable anymore.

And even after all that is done we are convinced that we cannot afford to spend any more on things like food because we need to many things. We have become a culture purely of quantity and not quality, of price, not of value. Madison Ave. tells us that we need stuff and then we go out and buy it.

Don't even get me started on healthcare costs and our national refusal to talk rationally about them, but at least that's a problem that in no way originates in NYC.

Bottom line: these kids are salmon swimming upstream against a strong current. Kudos to them for sensing that something is wrong. I can't blame them for finding the wrong solutions, although there are elements.

Zach said...

Bump this thread? Much enjoying the responses. Like to reiterate my position: Political economy trumps culture until we say otherwise..

Jeremiah Moss said...

Rem Koolhaas, the keynote speaker for this festival, is calling for a "Landmarks Destruction Commission," says the Observer. Said Koolhaas, "some kind of charter of destruction is needed."

Read the whole piece:
http://bit.ly/jRLLs3

Jill said...

There was an article this week that said that farmers markets are actually cheaper than nearby supermarkets. I wonder if that's true in NY. It doesn't seem so to me.

http://www.theatlantic.com/life/archive/2011/05/the-farmers-market-myth/238661/

Erik said...

@ Jill,

It depends on the item and the time of year.

Meat (all kinds), eggs, and dairy are always more expensive at the farmers market in NYC, but you also are not getting the same product.

The animal-based products are raised, slaughtered, butchered, and processed under better conditions than even the "best" products at most supermarkets.
With beef it makes a big difference; it can actually have the health profile or wild salmon is raised and fed a certain way. Supermarkets do not sell any such products, while the farmers markets sell them exclusively.

For produce, its about timing and availability. At farmers markets, since everything is seasonal, that drives the pricing. In early March there was one vendor at Union Square who had leafy greens such as spinach and kale weeks ahead of anyone else (they put canopies over some of their growing fields to create a greenhouse affect to accelerate the growth, and were located in a place that avoided a lot of the heaviest snowfall this winter). For those 6 weeks they had great spinach, but it was expensive. As others brought spinach in, their price fell and eventually they all reached parity below the supermarket price.

I now want to follow this up with a trip to Union Square followed by a 1:1 trip to Whole Foods. It would be interesting.

Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion. NYC is not what it used to be and it's never going to revert back to that golden time when you first moved here. I think a lot of people have trouble accepting that fact.