Bohemian Rhapsodizing…

25 Feb

The Guardian asks if San Francisco is “losing its soul.”

Critics say that San Francisco’s communities of alternative culture, ethnic or otherwise – the soil of its creative mojo and legendary social movements – are being turned into playgrounds for rich people. If San Francisco’s soul is its social and economic diversity and status as a refuge for those outside the mainstream, then it is being lost.

Here’s the thing: When people speak romantically about a city’s bohemian glory days, they are usually referring to a gritty, often-crime-ridden period that appealed to artists, burnouts, and poor people of all persuasions because the rents and cost of living were low. Once the crime rate decreases and the area is perceived as safer, what is euphemistically called “gentrification” or more accurately “white-ification” becomes inevitable.

Historically, urban centers were abandoned by the white middle class (even now, “urban” is a euphemism for minorities). The people who remained — young artists, gays, and so on — helped create that perceived “soul,” which slowly starts to appeal to the white middle class and beyond. The “hipster” class have also hung on the youth much longer than past generations who turned 30, got married, moved to the suburbs and had kids. Now doctors with nose rings live in Williamsburg and Portland.

I lived in New York during the Giuliani and the first 100 years of the Bloomberg administrations. I watched as many of the inconveniences of city life were erased — mostly crime related under Giuliani and more overall quality of life under Bloomberg (e.g. the smoking ban). People started to stay and raise kids in Manhattan who previously would have left for Westchester. Thus, the city that still felt in places like Taxi Driver when I arrived became more like Manhattan when I left, which is regrettable but is arguably progress.

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Posted by on February 25, 2014 in Social Commentary


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