Something Besides Billy Burke Puts Hastings on the Map [Part One (My Response to the NYT’s ‘Creating Hipsturbia’)]

The February 15th New York Times Fashion and Style feature article “Creating Hipsturbia”, by Alex Williams, states that due to rising rents in Brooklyn and the “re-branding” of said borough into “an international style capital”, its inhabitants are hitting the Metro North on the Hudson River Line, passing 125th, 225th, even eschewing Riverdale in favor of the hot hipster haven of the coming generation. Landing strip? The harmonious hamlet of Hastings on Hudson, in Westchester County, New York. The Rivertowns, but very explicitally and specifically Hastings, says Williams, have the perfect amount of creativity and progressiveness for the hyper-socioculturally aware “urban-zen generation” to feel that they’re not mimicking the actions of their parents. Additionally, a surge of artisanal and independent shops that cater to so-called hipster sensibilities ensures that these people will feel just as comfortable in Hastings as they did on Havemeyer.

Here is the link to the article in its entirety:

The backlash was immediate. A full-blown cyber-stampede as individuals from Lorimer Street to Lackawana County took to their keyboards, crying “Foul!” “False!” and occasionally “Fuck you!” Here’s why.

The first and most obvious issue with the article is that, try as it may to paint the “mass exodus from Brooklyn” as something unique to this generation, there have been expectant parents leaving cities for the suburbs as long as there have been cities themselves. “What they were doing, it turns out, was rationalizing a move to the suburbs. It was not an easy process.” Has Alex Williams not seen “Revolutionary Road”? (Probably not; it’s not twee enough.) Clearly it was not an easy process. Nor was it an easy process for my grandparents to go from living in the Bronx, where they had subway access, to Eastchester, where they needed a car. Nor was it easy for my parents to move from their one bedroom on West 10th Street, where they got to see Vincent ‘The Chin’ Gigante fake-crazy-ing around in his bathrobe, to Hastings-on-Hudson, where their neighbors were an eighty year old Jehovah’s Witness and his prehistoric mother.

The article claims that times have changed: In the past “young parents fled a city consumed by crime and drugs” whereas “these days, young creatives are fleeing a city that has become too affluent.” While NYC in the eighties was more dangerous than it is now, I do not believe for one moment that my parents, my friends’ parents, or anyone else who moved from the urban to the suburban did so simply for fear of crime. Rather, a lack of sufficient funds prohibited them from living in a neighborhood that they deemed suitable for raising children. If money is the issue, these so-called “Brooklynites” can easily get a four bedroom apartment in East New York for $2000. That’s still within the limits of the much-coveted 718 area code that one of the women interviewed in the article refues to give up, despite her new 914 location. But that area is teeming with the “unruly students” (a.k.a. black and Puerto Rican kids – say what you mean, people!). Off to Westchester, like everyone else.

On the note of Brooklyn, I’d estimate that .02% of the people this article describes are actually from the borough. The Marcy Projects haven’t opened their doors and told everyone to ZipCar up the Henry Hudson because Harper’s in Dobbs Ferry is barrel-aging cocktails. Indeed, intrinsic in this piece is that it is written for those who migrate to New York, specifically to neighborhoods like Williamsburg, for college or post-college. I’m not judging this; it’s natural. But these people are an isolated slice of a huge borough, a pesticide-free slice that doesn’t interact with a large portion of most of Kings County, that’s terrified of a large portion of most of Kings County, and that’s created a thriving, self-satisfied community based on shared interests of small town values, cocktails with obscure bitters, and, of course, a veneration for vegetarianism juxtaposed against an obsession with organic applewood smoked bacon. It’s Marfa, Texas, it’s the Pearl district in Portland, Oregon, it’s Shoreditch, Montmartre, La Roma, Silver Lake, Amsterdam-Noord, hell it’s fucking Shimokitazawa in Tokyo, Japan. These people aren’t Brooklyn, NYC: They’re Williamsburg, USA.

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines the word hipster as: “a person who is unusually aware of and interested in new and unconventional patterns.” I have nothing against hipsters, but these people do not embody the essence of the word. There is, at this point, nothing new or unconventional about Dutch-bikes, gluten-free cupcakes, edible nasturtiums, bird decals (“the universal sign for ‘hipsters welcome’ – SERIOUSLY?); indeed, this is the most offensive part of the article. Williams is essentially stating that the ability to buy a few obscure (and thus expensive) items makes Hastings-on-Hudson the burgeoning stomping ground for the creative class, this generation being touted as distinct from all the previous urban asthetes. But whether you’re coveting monofloral honey (whatever that is) or top-of-the-line electronics, you’re still coveting.

“‘When we checked towns out,’ Ms. Miziolek recalled, “I saw some moms out in Hastings with their kids with tattoos. A little glimmer of Williamsburg!” Ignoring the fact that this ignorant woman’s grammar is all out of whack and she states that the kids themselves have tattoos, let’s boil her assertation down 9th grade logic style: If p, then q: If you have a tattoo, you must be from Williamsburg. I would argue that an enormous percentage of American mothers have tattoos. Meth addicts in Little Rock, for example, are probably quite inked. The wives and girlfriends of the Latin Kings are definitely tatted up (nothing says maternal like a huge “SERGIO” written diagonally across the jugular). A woman on my childhood street – Hastings native, mother of four, fifty six years old, high school diploma pending – has bicep pieces on both arms. I’m not against tattoos: I have eleven. What I am against is the juvenile belief that having something, be it a tattoo, a plaid shirt, or shoes made of hemp, defines one in any way other than a consumer. You’re buying into a lifestyle, a consumption-based way of living in which you subscribe to certain lineaments put forth by a culture that almost religiously embody based on nothing more than someone telling you it was cool. Which is why you moved to Williamsburg in the first place. If you’re choosing the place to raise your children based on the facial hair of its inhabitants, the amount of time the specialty cocktails in the next town over were barrel-aged, or the fact that some mothers have tattoos, then you probably shouldn’t be procreating. Giving your children names that sound like Urban Decay colors doesn’t make you eclectic: It makes you an asshole.

So history repeats itself, Brooklyn is as Brooklyn does, which has nothing to do with this article, and we’re faced with yet another generation of individuals who are convinced that they’re the most sparkly sequin on Liberace’s coat.

Coming Next: A Hastings-Specific Response

Monthly Commuter Pass from 1926. The Times probably ran a similar article.
Monthly Commuter Pass from 1926. The Times probably ran a similar article.

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