YURPs, Burps, and Globalizing Big Easy

The effects of gentrification in New Orleans.
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The effects of gentrification in New Orleans.
A sax busker on the streets of New Orleans. (PHOTO: GARK MARK SMITH/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

A sax busker on the streets of New Orleans. (PHOTO: GARK MARK SMITH/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Say goodbye to authentic New Orleans.  Gentrification on a national scale is rapidly remaking the landscape. The influx from America's urban alpha dogs:

"You trying to run us out of New Orleans," she said. "Out of here. You know we can't afford $287,000."

That's what a nearby house recently sold for. High dollar for what Treme is used to, but cheap for people coming from Los Angeles or New York. And increasingly, real estate agent Eric Wilkinson said, people are.

"This is by far the most active the market's ever been, in at least the last decade," he said. "The most people moving to New Orleans, buying in New Orleans."

He says New Orleans has joined the "it" list, with cities like San Francisco and Austin, but cheaper. And those with fresh eyes have an advantage over natives.

"I mean, when you call a street Rampart, which literally means barrier, and people grow up thinking 'don't go across Rampart Street,'" he said. "Whereas people from out of town don't have those preconceived notions. It makes it easier for them to take the leap of faith."

Emphasis added. That's what I mean by gentrification on a national scale. Talent refined in New York City or Los Angeles will overwhelm parochial real estate such as the homes found in New Orleans. In essence, the source of income is untethered from neighborhood. Long-term residents don't have access to the high-paying jobs of a global labor market. Most people everywhere don't have that kind of opportunity.

Given the attraction and inexpensive shelter, disposable income abounds. That means restaurants and consumer city. Not your Rust Belt town's family Italian dive for the working class:

Economically speaking, the restaurant boom is a barometer of a city that is more affluent and more educated than it used to be. “Richer cities have more restaurants per capita,” said Jed Kolko, the chief economist of Trulia, the real estate website, who said New Orleans already ranked 14th in the nation on restaurants per person in 2010, just a few years into the recent boom (San Francisco was No. 1).

At the same time, the high concentration of restaurants here has built on itself, as chefs are attracted to a city where eating out is so popular and the most successful ones expand. In that sense, it represents an industry cluster along the lines of the financial industry on Wall Street or high technology in Silicon Valley. More than 10 percent of the jobs in the metropolitan area are in the restaurant business, compared with an average of 8.2 percent nationwide.

“The main difference between those clusters and the restaurant cluster is they’re all selling a service outside the city,” said Enrico Moretti, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley. But to the degree that the restaurants provide food to tourists, he said, they can be counted as exporters. New Orleans may not have much of a manufacturing base, but it sells boatloads of gumbo to millions of visitors. ...

... Thanks to the rebuilding boom after the storm, New Orleans largely escaped the recession, losing far fewer jobs than the country as a whole. But the city lost many of its poor families and attracted, in their stead, what are sometimes called YURPs: Young Urban Rebuilding Professionals. Though the median household income in New Orleans is still below the national average, the population has more college degrees and more households that earn over $75,000 a year than it did before the storm.

The city is also attracting experienced restaurant workers like Elle Nihill, who moved from the District of Columbia two months ago in hopes of finding a bartending job but, for now, is waiting tables at Marti’s in the French Quarter.

Goodness gracious me, the juiciest article passage I've read since I've started writing at Pacific Standard. New Orleans is a gold mine of talent geography. I'll start with Moretti's comment. Destination restaurants are tradable, similar to eds and meds in Pittsburgh attracting people from out of state. I'll go out on a limb and claim Moretti is wrong. I blame national scale gentrification and greater disposable income. Why quibble? The same global forces are at play. Fair enough, I concede the point.

Now onto YURPs and burps, who gets to staff these tradable restaurants?  Sticking with Moretti and those Innovation Economy multipliers:

The bright-side-of-life school argues, au contraire, that the benefits will continue to trickle, if not exactly as palatably as the 1990s optimists envisioned them. That school includes Enrico Moretti, a labor economist at the University of California, Berkeley, writing for the Wall Street Journal last September: “For each new software designer hired at Twitter in San Francisco, there are five new job openings for baristas, personal trainers, therapists and taxi drivers.”

Dismissive and scathing, I know that tone of voice. That's The Weekly Standard fist-bumping Karl Marx. Whatever pinkos are writing for that rag these days should have interviewed (see above) Elle "Trickle Down" Nihill:

“I had a 12-top last night, they had seven bottles of wine, the check hit $1,350, and they didn’t even do dessert,” Ms. Nihill reported happily. Would she advise her friends in the industry to move down? “I’m already telling them, get here,” she said. “On this whole staff, only two people are from New Orleans.”

Emphasis added. YURPs aren't the first wave of gentrification, urban pioneers. They are the servant class for the beneficiaries of The New Geography of Jobs. They are underemployed college graduates, gentrifiers and gentrified, who will relocate across the country for tips. They compete with the Big Easy natives for the crumbs of globalization.