In the Fort Greene and Clinton Hill neighborhoods of Brooklyn, there is an overwhelming assortment of farmers markets, flea markets, vegan restaurants, indie coffee shops, used record stores, and small ice cream shops with neat Dutch names like “Van Leeuwen” all crowded together on the busy streets. And, more often than not, these neighborhoods are filling up with a very specific type of people: hipsters.
Defined by Urban Dictionary (urbandictionary.com) as those who “reject the culturally-ignorant attitudes of mainstream consumers,” the term “hipsters” was introduced to me by my mother a few years ago when a new restaurant had opened close to my house. She characterized the customers that flocked to the eatery by their slightly unconventional fashion sense (consisting largely of overalls and fedoras), their liberal views, unique and intriguing aesthetic, and their tendency to bike just about everywhere.
Since then, I’ve spotted hipsters all over my neighborhood— it’s like they’re taking over Brooklyn. Hipster eateries and clothing stores are popping up at every street corner. This may not seem harmful, but for locals of certain neighborhoods, hipsters are not always a welcome sight. They make the sidewalks more crowded and living spaces nearby less affordable. They are the catalysts of gentrification in many of these neighborhoods, and can squelch a vibrant local culture.
The flea markets around my house have become livelier and less mainstream— hipsterfication has begun, and I am not a fan. On one of my weekend trips to these flea markets, I became increasingly aware that prices were unusually high. These prices were targeted at wealthier, middle-class consumers rather than locals or even the hipsters themselves, something that became all the more evident when I offered $50 for a run-down chainless bike that the vender insisted was worth around $200. I have to say, I was more frustrated about the overpriced bike at the time rather by than the implications of such prices and their association with gentrification—which include more than bicycle pricing. Hipsters as a group are not really considered part of the wealthy upper-middle class, but their establishments often cater to these opulent consumers. It is rather ironic because the hipster sense of unique style, a hallmark of the movement, is selling out.
The reason that hipsters occupy certain neighborhoods in the first place is because fringe neighborhoods, these “urban frontiers,” can be a good real estate value. But the hipster appeal can eventually drive up the values of real estate, not because the hipsters themselves are wealthy but because of their appeal to the middle-class. Via style and culture, New York City’s middle class has been having a love affair with the hipster—the cycle of gentrification starts by luring the more affluent upper-middle-class and mainstream wannabes into hipsterized neighborhoods. A lot of us idolize and strive to be near those who wear skinny jeans and vintage clothing and manage to combine old literature with an ever-present iPad or iPhone, but I see this cycle as harmful, pushing low-income locals out with higher real-estate prices. Proponents of the cycle argue that the movement of hipsters and subsequently the influx of higher income families into these once “shoddy” neighborhoods improves the safety, standard of living, and overall impression of these places, but I disagree. The argument that living quality and aesthetic value improve with hipster presence seems wrong, besides being irrelevant to the locals who are pushed out of the area.
As romances go, the bond between middle class and hipster is a costly one – it can drive out a distinct local style. Besides breeding discontent, the cycle degrades the once vibrant culture, be it Polish, Hispanic, Greek, Hasidic Jewish, of a neighborhood. Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Boerum Hill—neighborhoods near my house—have all become home to hipsters and have all experienced gentrification. I have been to these neighborhoods and experienced their rich cultural traditions, and I can testify that they were not devoid of style and a sense of place prior to the influx of new residents. Greenpoint, now a base for the hipster movement, was known for its Polish population and establishments. Luckily, some of that remains, but the wonderfully diverse vibe may soon be severely dampened.
I know that this article is part of the April fools issue, so a few of you may be asking where the punch line is. Consider this irony: locals are not the only one’s affected by higher real-estate prices – hipsters are, too. The reason that they flock towards new neighborhoods is to find cheap real estate, but by seducing and alluring the wealthier middleclass into a neighborhood, they too are pushed out – looks like the last laugh is on these self-destructive opportunists.