Hipster Demography and Gentrification

Stop blaming young people for rent hikes in Brooklyn.
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Stop blaming young people for rent hikes in Brooklyn.
Astroland in Coney Island. (PHOTO: PETER HAHNDORF/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Astroland in Coney Island. (PHOTO: PETER HAHNDORF/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Concerning gentrification, hipsters make a great scapegoat. Hipsters are like pornography. They are difficult to define. But you know them when you see them. Picking the low-hanging data fruit, Business Insider characterized hipsters as migrants aged 25-29 who have moved to Kings County, New York (Brooklyn): "These are prime candidates for hipsterdom."

In a word, no. The pattern of inbound young adults is unremarkable. The bulk of migrants come from the near abroad, such New York County (Manhattan). These "gentrifiers" are likely gentrification refugees themselves. Furthermore, looking at the net migration for this age cohort reveals a loss. That is to say, more (almost 3,000 more) hipster-aged people are leaving Brooklyn than moving in.

Never one to let a few numbers kill a good blogger rant, a few words about the defunct Die Hipster:

The Die Hipster blogger criticized his targets for being affluent and spoiled, and blamed hipsters — or in the blog’s parlance “interlopers,” “gentrifiers,” “transplants,” “trust-funders,” and “urban cupcakeologists” — for driving up rents across Brooklyn.

“It has trickled down the borough,” said the now-retired blogger, who frequently commented at the bottom of Brooklyn Paper articles (and, apparently, was not a big fan). “Why should I pay even $50 more a month because a bunch of try-hard artists and fauxhemians from the suburbs of middle America want to come here and be cool for a few years?”

His mission was to stop the wave of gentrification — and he tried to do it with outright animosity rather than persuasion. The blog featured a regular item in which the writer would violently fantasize about encountering a token hipster — a quail keeper, a unicyclist, or some other “culdesacian” — and then describe bludgeoning them to death.

Ah yes, the dreaded culdesacian. Of course, the backlash has a backlash. Armed with the keen Business Insider insights, Virginia K. Smith of The L Magazine:

"Ugh, fucking hipsters from the midwest whose mommy and daddy pay the rent" thing is a surprisingly common trope when people talk about gentrification (and when jerks throw tantrums in our comments section), and it's something I've hated for a long, long time. Partly because it feels unnecessarily mean-spirited, but also because it doesn't make any sense.

If you look around you, the rich kids whose parents may or may not be subsidizing their Williamsburg rent aren't, as a rule, the gentle-hearted transplants who just hopped off the bus from Chillicothe with dreams of the big city or whatever. Most of them were already nearby and well-situated, and flood in from places like Long Island, New Jersey, Upstate New York, Connecticut ... you get the idea. They also flood in from other relatively hip (and mostly coastal) areas like Portland, Seattle, Northern California, and Austin. None of which, again, should come as a particular surprise, or even necessarily be seen as a problem—anyone who takes issue with the existence of New York transplants isn't usually worth speaking to on this or any other serious urban issue. But if this serves as an opportunity to put at least one stupid aspect of the gentrification debate to bed? Well, that'd be pretty nice.

Culdesacians from Fly Over Country, namely suburban Columbus, are wrecking the real Brooklyn. They don't belong. They are the evil gentrifiers. Never mind the mental gymnastics required to vilify interns living five people to a closet in Bushwick. You see them eating cupcakes. They must go.

Apparently, go they do. Ironically (the only way hipsters migrate), the most popular destination upon leaving sacred Brooklyn is Manhattan. I doubt mommy and daddy are subsidizing that move. Tops for outside the metro region are Los Angeles and Philadelphia, the urban core counties and not exactly culdesacian. These "hipsters" aren't boomeranging back to the childhood home basement after living out a Girls fantasy. But we have to blame someone and we won't point the finger at the authentic locals who were here first.

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