Who Is A City For?

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130 Responses

  1. Avatar dexter says:

    Saul, If you are a person who doesn’t like to be around tourists throwing up, urinating against your house and driving like they owned the world I would advise you to stay far, far away from New Orleans during Mardi Gras and every other day of the year.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Move to a city that has fewer people wanting to visit. Tulsa? Now that’s a city without a whole lot of tourists!Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Jaybird says:

      That’s because there’s Nothing to Visit.
      Pittsburgh is the place where there’s actually stuff to see, but nobody bothers visiting anyhow.Report

      • Avatar Paul in reply to Kimmi says:

        Well, except for the furries. From what I hear, the city of Pittsburgh picks up a surprisingly large share of its revenue from them. I can only imagine the money local businesses must be making if that’s true.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Kimmi says:

        The Germans like to visit too (they find pittsburgh quite cheerful and sunny.)
        And the Indians like to come pray… (Pittsburgh Pilgrimage)

        I think the only reason the furries come here is because we don’t punch them on sight (um, they used to go to Philly).Report

  3. Avatar dexter says:

    I spent the first twelve years of my life in Oklahoma before I got extremely lucky and moved to Boulder. I firmly believe the only reason to live in Oklahoma is if you hunt, fish, farm, raise cattle, or are a young earth creationist that wants to vote for a global warming denying senator that makes Diaper Boy Vitter seem sane.
    I will admit that I really love lefty frizzell and dolly west singing “your the reason god made Oklahoma”. I have spent ten hours on an old ford tractor thinking of Alaska’s commune and sweet Darlene.Report

  4. Avatar Kazzy says:

    I think it is fair to object to loutish behavior, particularly “planned” or “organized” loutish behavior. And I find Santa-con particularly annoying because I think it can be very upsetting to children. “Mommy, why is Santa Claus peeing on that wall?” “Daddy, did Santa Claus just put his hand up Mrs. Claus’s skirt?”

    That said, I’m not particularly sympathetic to people who live in one of the biggest cities in America — a city known for having somewhat of an ‘anything goes’ attitude, a city whose moniker is “The city that never sleeps” — and complain about noise or crowds or the unique sort of wackiness that urban centers breed. If you are here of your own volition, you have to take the bad with the good. That doesn’t mean you can’t grumble about it or shoot sideways looks at drunken Santas. But the moment you shift from, “Ugh, the Santas are so annoying!” to “They shouldn’t be doing that!” I’m going to start objecting.

    Other tidbits to consider…

    SantaCon does generate a positive effect in that many participants stay true to the charitable goal of the event and bring canned/boxed foods for donations.
    “The market” has responded to SantaCon with many businesses and neighborhoods banding together to refuse to participate (without involving the government, as far as I understand). That seems to be how this sort of thing should go. If a bar doesn’t want a bunch of drunken slobs wreaking havoc, they have plenty of mechanisms to avoid just that (and many employ those mechanisms on a near-daily basis). And if a broader neighborhood wants to maintain a certain atmosphere, they similarly have mechanisms that don’t go so far as to be wholly exclusive in nature.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Kazzy says:

      I continue to think that people chewing on live electrical wires ought to go to jail (particularly if asked to stop, and they continue).
      Luckily, the police agree.

      Santacon? Folks, you should see Anthrocon. Oh, good lord, the Drama! And… the idiots…
      Anthrocon actually won us some baseball games (the other baseball team had some South American players on it, who were convinced that the animal noises they were hearing all through the night were some sort of barbaric, possibly satanic ritual).Report

  5. Avatar James Hanley says:

    A city’s just a place where lots of people go to do stuff. That’s what it’s for, so it’s for whomever wants to go do stuff that can be done there.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to James Hanley says:

      It is also a place where people live. I’m not so concerned about the demise of the department store. It seems to me that the love locks can be problematic from an engineering and bridge tumbling down prospective.

      I am concerned that low-margin but necessary businesses for residents like moderately priced grocery stores can seemingly not compete with high-end retail for space and I am not sure that there is a technocratic or free market solution to this as an issue.Report

      • Avatar Patrick in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I’m a little more concerned with how they work when they aren’t working, myself.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        “Live” is one of the thing people do in a city. “Visit” is another–and if those who live there object to the visitors, maybe they should elect city government that doesn’t intentionally recruit visitors?

        And if the city government does mothing while tourists ever so gradually increase a bridge’s weight over a period of years until it fails, is that really the tourists’ fault?

        And your example suggested Parisians don’t care, so what’s your standing to care for resident interests in their place? What is the standing of two American women are trying to save a Parisian thing when Parisians are–your word–hostile? That seems to turn your “is the city for the residents and tourists question inside out, no?

        As well, it’s mostly the residents, albeit new ones, driving up rents, etc., isn’t it? Condos in Williamsburg are for residents, not tourists, right? Or do we mean only existing residents at some point in time? And then why does that point in time, and its unique set of resudents get privileged? Or how long does one have to live in a place where one counts as being a resident, for purposes of the city being “for” them? What if residents preferences differ, some preferring groceriesand others preferring wine bars and gallery openings? Which sub-portion of that “whom” is the city for?

        I think this is a rabbit hole question, Saul.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        it’s NYC, the condos in Manhattan are for tourists, half of the time. (Some of those in Pittsburgh, too. $2000+ a month is unaffordable…)Report

  6. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Louis Vuitton Money Hennessey

    Gotta admire their honesty.Report

  7. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    @james-hanley has it right. Any really global city is going to be an uncontrollable beast of sorts and for everybody who wants to make use of it. Unless you use police state methods than your not going to be able to freeze things in time. Trying to keep a city stuck in a particular Golden Age like the Paris of the Belle Epoque for hippy, freaky San Francisco is a fool’s errand.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I don’t disagree with you or the Professor. I don’t necessarily care that much that the “radical anarchist” such and such collective is necessarily a driving force in SF politics. I do think there are serious ethical issues with groceries and other necessary businesses being pushed out by retail on blocks that are already filled with boutique shops especially when the grocery stores that get pushed out tend to be reasonably priced.

      There might not necessarily be a legal solution to this as a problem but I’m not willing to be all neo-liberal and say just because this is happening, it is okay and what the market wants is all good.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Ethical issues? Who is being unethical?Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        Unethical in the same way that you once wondered why Apple couldn’t pay its employees (especially factory and retail workers) more and deal with very robust profit instead of gigantic levels of profit.

        It does disservice to the people who live in the community especially the old timers and the people who live in public housing complex as opposed to the fancier brownstones. I suppose that it does leave money on the table but maybe sometimes money should be left on the table for the greater good.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I don’t know that that qualifies as unethical. Is the absence of a particular virtue the same as being unethical?Report

      • Avatar Aaron W in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Changes in the ultra strict zoning laws in San Francisco would help allow some of these businesses to survive.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        sometimes money should be left on the table for the greater good.

        When I hear the phrase “the greater good,” I reach for my gun.

        More seriously, how do you know it’s the greater good? You’re just pointing to two sets of people and defining one’s interest as the greater good, and the other’s as the lesser good? But it’s not clear what your standard is beyond sympathy for one group.

        Let’s get reductio (or as my old geometry teacher would have said, go to an extreme case and work backward) and ask what if 99% of the population wants botiques and 1% wants groceries. What’s the greater good then? If the 1%, why such minority rule? If the 99%, then as we slide down the scale, where is the tipping point? Does it depend just on the group’s respective sizes, or does it depend also on the intensity of their preferences?

        If “greater good” is no more than a phrase we pull out when our interests, or the interests of a group we sympathize with, are injured, then it’s little more than a tool for political repression masquerading under a noble title. It is the path to Omelas.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        +1 Nailed it James.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I don’t know that that qualifies as unethical. Is the absence of a particular virtue the same as being unethical?

        I feel like there was a Greek dude who said something about that.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I suppose that it does leave money on the table but maybe sometimes money should be left on the table for the greater good.

        I think this is also a case where the passive voice neatly obscures the reality. “It” doesn’t leave money on the table–real people leave money on the table, and they do so to/for the benefit of other real people. If the investments and neighborhood changes occur, real money is made by real people, and real losses in utility occur to other real people. Compensation is at least theoretically possible in either case, and sometimes does happen in real life.

        And lost in all the passive voice and insinuations against developers is the economic interest of the home/building owner who does have an opportunity to make some real money by selling to a developer. Is there any consideration of compensation to them if developments aren’t allowed?

        Of course we can reasonably argue that nobody has an inherent right to a successful economic investment, but that cuts both ways. The developer doesn’t, nor does the homeowner who sees the opportunity for a big score, but neither does the homeowner who’s utility is in seeing the neighborhood stay the same, nor does the renter who’s leased an apartment in that neighborhood because s/he gains utility from its current character.Report

      • Avatar Mo in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        San Francisco was a trade and finance capital before it was a hippie and bohemian capital.Report

  8. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    A large amount of NIMBY strife seems to come from the idea that there are fewer businesses that cater to locals and more and more businesses that cater to outside money that only stays in the city for a few hours at a time.

    That’s odd. People usually welcome this, on the grounds that it brings in money and jobs. I guess the people who are complaining are the ones who don’t personally benefit from this?Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      I think Saul is just wrong on this one. Maybe the most noise NIMBY’s make is about tourist vs resident interests but the most damage and the most fighting is done by NIMBY’s doing things to prevent more residents from moving in. Those NY brownstones, for instance, aren’t preserved because they’re good housing for the space they take up. They’re preserved by strict zoning rules and other regulatory barriers manned by vigilant NIMBY’s who don’t want the wrong kind of people (and more people in general) from moving into their areas.

      I understand NIMBYism; real estate strikes me as one of the few products you can buy that can morph from something you love into something you hate; NIMBYism simply tries to prevent that. Even though it’s understandable, however, it has to be fought because of how caustically poisonous it is to its communities.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to North says:

        Good luck with that. NIMBYism is a very natural reaction in people even without taking into account things like not wanting the “wrong” type of people moving into the neighborhood. We otherwise call this racism and classcism. Like you said, people don’t want there charming and quiet neighborhood to become a nightlife hub with bars, restaurants, and clubs. Nor do they want their inner suburb to be up-zoned to something more urban, which is why the land around suburban railway stations is often poorly utilized. In a sensible word, the areas within walking distance of suburban railways stations would be built up with mixed use apartments and commercial space rather than parking lots.

        I am not sure how to fight against NIMBYism in a democracy. Zoning and sensible land use laws are important to making a place liveable. Nuisance is still a cause of action and a real thing. Good zoning can reduce that. Its just that zoning and other important tools can be misused by the NIMBYs for ill.

        Any sort of democracy is going to have NIMBYism. The veto point filled American systme with its multiple bodies that can interfere is generally more prone to NIMBYism than others. Japan has some NIMBYism but manages to avoid a lot of it by makign zoning a national policy rather than a local one. Its a lot harder for people to lobby their national government to prevent land use they don’t like than their local one. The best way to implement this in the United States is to have land use laws issued by the state legislatures than counties and cities. The state legislature is much more difficult to lobby.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to North says:

        NIMBYism is probably pretty easy to fight in a working democracy. In a democracy where a few control most of the political and economic power, not so much.

        In Austin, there’s a woman who very well may win a seat on the city council in this month’s runoff election who has explicitly attacked her opponent for being a renter rather than a home owner — in a district that is about 80% renter — with people in an ad saying that because he’s a renter, he doesn’t represent them. The implication is pretty clear: renters don’t do NIMBYism, so they’re not going to represent the neighborhood right on the council.

        And it’s not just renters: home owners in poor and working class neighborhoods, neighborhoods that supply the service sector workers, cops, fire, garbage workers, etc., have little influence on zoning, while the single-family neighborhoods that dramatically affect density and therefore traffic and transportation almost always get whatever they want.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to North says:


        Most of the brownstones were bought on the cheap many decades ago when the neighborhoods were not that great. Brownstone Brooklyn was very posh in the 1800s but became working class and more rough and tumble during most of the 20th century. The original gentrification happened in the 1960s-80s when you could buy a fix-er-up brownstone for 20,000 dollars. The same was true on the Upper West Side.

        We aren’t exactly talking vacant lots here. The housing is either single or dual family or broken up into apartments on the inside. I would think the only way to be non-NIMBY about it is if you think NYC should use the Khelo decision, buy all the Brownstones via emenient domain, knock them down, and then build upzoned apartment buildings.

        That will not go over well.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to North says:


        Wouldn’t the appropriate response be for the renter candidate to point out that 80 percent of the neighborhood are renters and as a renter he can support the interest of renters?

        Of course there are plenty of policies that renters love that the neo-liberal set hates as well like rent control. A lot of landlords don’t even live in San Francisco or are in many cases big companies with hundreds or thousands of apartments.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to North says:

        Lee: I didn’t say fighting it is easy, just necessary. It’s also not like NIMBY’s are only fighting against the neighborhood becoming a tourist trap or nightlife destination. Your most typical NIMBY will fight to prevent a vacant lot from becoming a house, a house from becoming a duplex or really any increase in density at all.
        You and Chris are spot on about the motivations and elements involved of course.

        Saul: it was mean of me to pick on the brownstones since I know you love em. I have lived in a Minneapolis brownstone myself- fond memories though of course not comparable to a NY one. That said the unhappy fact is that absent NY’s regulations and the NIMBY use of said regulations by the brownstone residents those neighborhoods would have been updeveloped into midrise or bigger housing developments. One of the owners would have eventually broken ranks as the developers drove successively larger dumptrucks full of money up to their doorsteps and so it would have gone. Objectively speaking that would mean a lot more housing for people in NYC. Sure there’s tradeoffs on arguements for historic preservation maybe but in general more people would have housing and there’d be the environmental and economic benefit of denser housing as well.

        NIMBYism is mostly about established and monied existing owners saying “screw the younger, poorer (often browner) newcomers, I’ve got mine.” The rest of it is semantics. It’s not pretty but there it is.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to North says:

        Happily recognition of the destructive futility of rent control is much more widely spread than neoliberals. That’s why the cancer of rent control is in remission in so many places or is at least being replaced by least marginally less destructive policies like mandated low income housing and the like.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to North says:

        That’s definitely a thing about NIMBYism. It all depends on muscle, and so it naturally favors those that have it over those that don’t.

        Waste water treatment centers have to go somewhere, and it’ll go where the locals can’t afford scores of impact studies, or don’t have the ear of anybody important.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to North says:

        Sure, pointing out that in that regard he represents 80% of the district is a strategy, one I believe he’s taken in public appearances, but renters don’t do negiborhood associations (for the most part), and they don’t have the money to support political candidates at the same level that owners do.

        I’ll put it this way. This woman is anti-flouride, a Tenther, a 9/11 truther, and just generally loopy, but she got the 2nd most votes in the general and may very well win the runoff because she represents the money in the district. She was endorsed by the neighborhood association, but that probably goes without saying.

        Oh, and she’s attacked him for being an atheist (he says he’s not one, but she got a paper he wrote as an undergrad that said something vaguely atheistic like, “a god I no longer believe in”).Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to North says:

        Waste water treatment centers have to go somewhere,

        Even when NIMBYism doesn’t involve explicit racism, it can involve institutional and environmental racism.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to North says:

        NIMBYism is mostly about established and monied existing owners saying “screw the younger, poorer (often browner) newcomers, I’ve got mine.” The rest of it is semantics. It’s not pretty but there it is.

        And why shouldn’t they say that? They’re certainly under no obligation to put the abstract interests of others above their own, nor are they obligated to even consider them. More to the point tho, the exact same criticism (with one minor tweak) applies to gentrifiers just as much as NIMBY’s: established monied interests say “screw the younger, poorer, often browner folks who are already here“.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to North says:


        Proof for the destruction of rent control and why? My bet is that landlords are simply using their money to buy off legislators and city council members rather than renters themselves deciding that rent control is no good. I believe in cities where rent control is placed on a ballot, it remains.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to North says:

        Stillwater: I can see people saying that but it’s not a line that you find in general in liberalism and liberals aren’t usually comfortable copping to it which makes rent control and its family of NIMBYism an odd abberation within liberalism and leftism.

        Gentrification is somewhat more complicated in that gentrification does benefit the minorities who own property in low income neighborhoods; it’s the renters who run into trouble as their rents go up. I actually find gentrification a harder nut to crack than NIMBYism or rent control; one one hand people are getting priced out of their neighborhoods, on the other hand the neighborhoods are generally getting better for people. One one hand you have monied interests moving into these (often minority neighborhoods) on the other hand haven’t we been decrying white flight?Report

      • Avatar North in reply to North says:

        Rent control has been on the retreat for quite a while Saul and has been watered down significantly in many areas. Massachusetts pretty much did away with their hard rent control statutes entirely and rent control has been supplanted in many places (including New York) by watered down incarnations like mandated low income housing though IIRC the new Mayor is a proponent yes? So perhaps that’s going to reverse.

        I can’t speak to why this is but I’d expect you to struggle to find many advocates for hard rent control in the opinion and pretty much none among economists.

        As to it surviving elections that’s not surprising. Rent control benefits a small minority of people a great deal, screw over everyone mildly and absolutely fishes over people who don’t actually live in the city to vote so the electoral issue naturally plays to the passionate proponents. Rent control is the sugar tariffs/agricultural subsidies equivalent of the left wing.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to North says:

        North, gentrification could hurt property owners if the property taxes raise high enough that they can’t afford them anymore.

        Rent control isn’t an odd aberration within liberalism if you view it in the larger field of tenant’s rights against rapacious landlords.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to North says:

        Lee, if values rise enough to increase taxes that painfully then the owners have a massive profit to be gained from selling the property which does, yes, suggest they may leave the neighborhood but it’s hard to see hundreds of thousands of dollars of windfall profits as a sign of victimization.

        Rapicious landlords of course is the marketing of rent control so yeah I can see it fitting in that way so long as one ignores the reality of it generating urban blight, a landed new wealthy class and a systemic persecution of minorities and poor newcomers.

        What I truly don’t understand about rent control proponents is that think that it somehow stops more rich people from living in a given city. I don’t quite see how that works.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to North says:

        Yeah, getting a million dollars does help with the “I have to move now.”

        Personally, I kind of like gentrification, so long as it doesn’t get TOO bad. Otherwise, the homes eventually fall over, and that is Expensive!

        A virtuous cycle does float all boats.

        I do think that some accomodations should be made, when folks have to leave their places. If possible, creating new communities elsewhere, certainly expanding public transit (one shouldn’t have to buy a car simply because one’s house appreciated too much)Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to North says:



        If this is correct, close to 75 percent of the rental units in San Francisco are under rent control. SF could be the exception rather than the rule here.

        Honestly what we really need to work on is whether it is better to rent or to own. Current American policy benefits owners over renters and until that ends, renters will have a raw deal. One of the reasons I have a hard time joining the anti-rent control movement is because I think ending rent-control is really more of a benefit to the landlords than it is to anyone else. I would like to see direct policies that benefit renters. I don’t want roundabout helping property owners will trickle down and help renters policies. I’m largely suspicious of things that seem like roundabout and indirect policies to help people. They often seem too clever by half and usually are.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to North says:

        If you read the link Dand kindly provided Saul you’ll see the bitter harvest San Fran has reaped from its rent control. Somehow I don’t think most renters are making out well from that setup.

        I agree with renters being disadvantaged Saul. Look at the mortgage interest deduction. Now there’s a huge giveaway to home owners. Heck look at flood insurance- talk about a scheme for subsidizing Mcmansions in flood zones- when I first moved here and learned about it I didn’t believe it. No government could be so stupid as to pay to insure people to live in flood zones that private insurance won’t cover I said. Man I was wrong.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to North says:

        I think ending rent-control is really more of a benefit to the landlords than it is to anyone else.

        The biggest beneficiaries are prospective renters. But they’re not seen, and as Bastiat emphasized, it’s all too normal for what is not seen to not appear in people’s analyses. Or as Henry Hazzlitt put it in Economics in One Lesson,

        The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the larger effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy no merely for one group but for all groups.


      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to North says:

        From a societal standpoint, Americans decided that owning was better than renting for centuries. We have also long decided that a single family home with a lawn is much superior to an apartment. The first apartment buildings that appeared in Reconstruction era Manhattan were scandolous because it was long assumed that proper Anglo-Saxon people need to live in a home not a flat.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to North says:

        Rent control amounts to welfare by lottery. If you when the rent control lottery, you can win big. Shortly after I graduated law school, I encountered a woman that won the rent control lottery and had a very desriable duplex in an expensive Brooklyn neighborhood for bellow market value. Welfare should never be by lottery.Report

  9. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    Cities aren’t “for” anyone — cities just are. At this particular point in time, the US has some cities that have been able, thanks to fossil fuels and heavy electrification, to push a whole lot of objectionable activities into other places. 100 or 120 years ago, Manhattan was a very different place, with slaughterhouses, heavy manufacturing, and (for limited relatively rich customers) coal-fired generators providing electricity for the wealthy. Along with all the stink and other filth that goes with those. 100 years from now, it will be a different place along some axes, but guessing is hard. Those same energy sources allow large transient populations that leave lots of money behind, funding a lot of nice things.

    As an example, consider that in 1905, if you lived in downtown Chicago, being killed by a horse kick was a significant risk among the various things likely to kill you.Report

  10. Avatar dhex says:

    santacon is the not the best day to be traipsing around the city but dionysian stuff happens. pride, folsom east, pr day parade, and oh dear god st patrick’s day. that last is easily the most insane and awful and vomit-y.Report

  11. Avatar aaron david says:

    My father was born in San Fransisco, 1942. At that time, at the start of the war, SF was a military town still, and very much a blue collar town. It had all these things called piers, were freight was unloaded. There were dry docks to repair ships and industries were located there. After a while “bohemian-hippie-radical” became the norm, pushing the working class man out of the city.
    On those occasions that I am in the city, I go drinking at an old bar all the way out on Judah. Kind of a raucous joint, just bar stools and a pool table, ’70’s rock on the juke. No fancy cocktails, no craft beers, only food is some chips up behind the bar. The type of place that hasn’t changed in 60 years. The way SF was and no longer is. Because things always change.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to aaron david says:

      There are still a few bars like that and you are right that they tend to be on the outer edges of the city. I agree that things always change but that doesn’t mean showing indifference to changes or suggesting that some changes need a bit of a corrective action. Though people will always debate about which changes should and should not happen.

      There will always be change. Many changes will be for the better, others not, and others merely neutral.Report

  12. Avatar Aaron W says:

    I think many of the changes recently in SF have actually been for the better. But, then, during Santacon this weekend in the Mission, I saw a bunch of straight people dressed like Santa Claus in Esta Noche (a gay Latino dive bar), and it made me very upset. But then, you have to take the good with the bad.Report

  13. Avatar Chris says:

    It is undoubtedly the case that the reason grocery stores are leaving poor and working class neighborhoods is that tourists want to shop for expensive clothing there.Report

  14. Avatar j r says:


    You are making a couple of conflations that I think work against some of your assumptions. For instance:

    The stereotypical SantaCon attendee is seen as being a Frat Boy or Sorority Girl type and part of the “Bridge and Tunnel” crowd. Meaning that they don’t even live in the city. More on this later.

    This implies that frat boys and the B&T crowd are the same. They’re not. Santacon is much more of a B&T thing than it is a frat thing, at least in NY. There are probably lots of Manhattan kids fresh out of college who go to Santacon once, maybe twice, but then immediately join the Santacon is trashy demographic. The Bridge & Tunnel crowd are not frat boys who work in finance. They’re largely middle class whites from the suburbs, many of whom didn’t go to top-tier colleges, many of whom work in trades or in services. This is not the artsy complaining about the bourgeoisie. It’s the supposed professional class complaining about the proles. So, in the parlance of social justice, people complaining about the Santacon crowd are largely punching down.

    A person who chooses to live in Murray Hill in NYC is different than someone who is attracted to scruffier Williamsburg …

    This tells me that you have not been to Williamsburg lately. Anyone attracted to the scruffy, is already packing up in Bushwick and headed to Ridgewood, Queens. I have one good friend who lives in Williamsburg; he’s a neurosurgeon who lives in a million-plus dollar condo overlooking the water. These differences that you talk about; they are there, but just not as meaningful as you portray them. They largely just ways for people to draw their in/out-group boundaries. And those boundaries should be taken with a grain of salt.

    You know what the city is? It is a place, like lots of other places, where people, like lots of other people, are trying to build a life. That’s really it.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to j r says:

      I have it on good authority that Saul has been to Williamsburg when ever he visits me in New York, so he has been Williamsburg recently and has seen it change a lot.Report

  15. Avatar Citizen says:

    “Cities are never random.
    No matter how chaotic they might seem, everything about them grows out of a need to solve a problem. In fact, a city is nothing more than a solution to a problem, that in turn creates more problems that need more solutions, until towers rise, roads widen, bridges are built, and millions of people are caught up in a mad race to feed the problem-solving, problem-creating frenzy.”

    Neal Shusterman, DownsidersReport

  16. Avatar Kimmi says:

    Yeah. Well, there was that.
    Paris is full of privileged folk.
    And privileged folk hate to see “their things” go away, for any reason.
    Worse, they expect everyone else to care.

    You want to see people bitching about the latest Foot Locker closing?
    … you don’t, because those are working class people, and they live in the suburbs.

    I thought Manhattan was populated by literate businessmen (not artsy at all, though they still hit all the shows in first run).Report

  17. Avatar zic says:

    I live in a destination town. Our local population is about 2,500 souls; but with our bed base for the tourism industry, on peak holiday times, that can swell to as many as 40,000 people. We have services that a small town without the destination would never have, particularly restaurants, bars, and inns. (I once calculated that to fill at least one table through the dinner hour with local residents, everyone who lives in our school district would have to eat out six nights a week.)

    Yes, most jobs in the area depend on that. And yes, it’s often a nuisance for people who live here. But it’s important to consider that these aren’t problems of cities alone, they’re problems of any place where there’s a pull factor. We have to pay for policing that, when there aren’t as many visitors in town, flexes its eyes toward locals. We have to pay for snow removal in developments of second homes that are often completely empty. We have times where the local stores are so chocked with guests that it’s nearly impossible to do a little grocery shopping.

    Here, ongoing issues include second homes. On the one hand, this is awesome; a strong tax base that helps fund local services and schools without creating additional burden on schools, in particular. But the flip side is high real estate prices which results in fewer and fewer voters concerned with quality of schools, too. We’ve had one town withdraw from the school district; another is considering it; mostly because taxes are based on second-home values, which people who live here often cannot afford. Sure, they’re greatly subsidized by second homes, but it still drives their value and property taxes up. For people who own large chunks of land (a common thing in families who’ve been here since this was a farming community) cannot afford to keep their land.

    I’m not a big proponent of single-source regional economies; cities, at least, tend to have varied economies. With the demise of the wood-processing industries and farming, and with technology significantly lowering the numbers of manufacturing workers in both wood and farming, service-sector jobs are all that remain; and most are seasonal, low-wage, and don’t include benefits.

    But without that tourism, we’d have nothing.Report

  18. Avatar Saul Degraw says:


    Moving down thread.

    I am not fully convinced that developers would come into turn the brownstones to highrises. Those neighborhoods were being ignored for most of the 20th century and the people who stopped ignoring them were the people who wanted brownstones but were priced out of Greenwich Village and the Upper West Side (which was also a violent neighborhood during the 1960s and 70s and became exceedingly wealthy) and other neighborhoods in Manhattan. Many of these people still live in their brownstones. When exactly were the developers supposed to come in? Your scenario seems more like wishful thinking and alt.history.

    Gentrification is a tougher nut to crack. I am starting to see people who are arguing that maybe white people should stick to the suburbs instead of moving to the city. Or at least there are articles about how to move to a neighborhood and not turn into yuppie-yoga-gastropub zone.


    That being said it is probably impossible to determine whether gentrification is good or not and depends on your background and ideology. Matt Y talked about how it was good that better supermarkets were coming into poorer neighborhoods. A friend who is a person of color objected to Matt Y using the word better because he saw better as meaning “for yuppies.” Then there are people here who take Matt Y’s side and believe that people in the low income neighborhoods do want something more like Whole Foods. This is probably true for some or many people in the low income neighborhoods but not all people.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      People who make arguments that white people should stick to the suburbs need their heads wacked a little. Its the dumbest response possible to the problem of gentrification.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Saul, I’m not saying that brownstones -would- have been developed (I may think that but as you note that’s alt history) but rather that they would be developed right now. If the various regulatory restrictions and NIMBY forces that currently preserve them were removed they’d be updeveloped into denser housing in relatively short order. I don’t think there’s much doubt about that. NY is crazy in demand real estate.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to North says:


        I think a handful might be changed for sure but you wouldn’t see the wholesale destruction of blocks of brownstones. Even if upzoning was possible, you would still have to deal with air and light issues.

        The people who bought brownstones as single family or two family homes did so because they like living in brownstones. The ones that might change are the ones that were broken into smaller apartments and tend to be owned by the real old-timers. I lived next to a woman who lived in the neighborhood since the 1950s. She occupied one apartment in her house and rented out the rest. I could theoretically see her selling.

        So then you get into Kehlo issues and should the city be allowed to force owners out of their homes that they want to occupy so developers can knock down the brownstones and turn blocks into midrises. And I do think this would become a Kehlo issue and that would change the political alliances involved in the debtate.

        If I owned a brownstone in Brooklyn, a developer would probably have to offer me 10s of millions of dollars to sell it.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to North says:

        Suppose there were no restrictions about upzoning and new historical preservation laws and there was a street of brownstones that was largely occupied by single familes with some duplexes and other apartments thrown into the mix. But the street was still holding less people than it could because of the brownstones. Suppose the owners also refused to sell for any price (even excessive of a fair market value price) simply because they liked living in their brownstones and they liked the feel of the hood.’

        Do you think a city should be able to force the owners to sell because the developers can tear down those brownstones and turn them into apartments for 1000s of people?Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to North says:

        I think that 10’s of millions of dollars isn’t out of the question. Certainly we’ve seen hospitals offer well over market value to get the last chunk of a block they wanted.

        Should the city be able to force people out? Nahhh…let the market take care of that.

        I have my price for selling my house.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to North says:

        Do you think a city should be able to force the owners to sell because the developers can tear down those brownstones and turn them into apartments for 1000s of people?

        I think North is merely saying that a developer would make those home owners an offer they wouldn’t refuse. Not an offer they couldn’t refuse.Report

      • Avatar Mr. Blue in reply to North says:

        Sometimes, Saul, sacrifices need to be made for the greater good. Yes, the people could stay where they are, but I think that would be unethical given how many more people (including a lot of people less wealthy than they are) could move in there if they chose to move. That would be like pocketing the profits at Apple instead of paying their employees more.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to North says:

        Do you think a city should be able to force the owners to sell

        Where did this “force” business come from? Has North said anything that is remotely approving of using force?Report

      • Avatar North in reply to North says:

        Saul, I am opposed to Kelo style takings regardless of the situation so it’s an easy no for me. If I’m opposed to the city dictating rent levels and terms I would be a massive hypocrite if I didn’t oppose the city dictating the sale and sales price of property (which I do oppose).

        That said, your scenario is not realistic. Sooner or later (most likely very soon) one of the brownstone owners would cash out at which point the various brownstone owners would race each other to sell the properties off. As Kimmie and Stillwater accurately note a developer in NY would simply make an offer that some of the owners wouldn’t dream of refusing. NY real estate values are almost supernatural- the money necessary to convince some owners to sell would be promptly offered.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to North says:

        Would passing a law in support of aesthetic romanticism (“They’re Historical Buildings!”) with regards to those cute brownstones qualify as using force to make sure that the buildings are *NOT* sold to developers?Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      When you move from 90% on welfare to 50% on welfare, the grocery stores change radically, in terms of product availability.

      Whole paycheck is a pretty terrible thing to do to someone who isn’t able to afford all organic all the time. But not all “yuppie” places are like that. (I’m really glad Costco started accepting foodstamps, and really sad that it took the recession to make ’em do it).Report

  19. Avatar James Hanley says:

    It’s weird when liberalism becomes a reactionary defense of the status quo. It’s so….conservative.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to James Hanley says:

      Everyone’s conservative when it’s their Whole Foods that’s under the gun!Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Chris says:

        It’s easy to laugh at NIMBYs when it’s *their* back yard and not mine!Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        I live in one of the NIMBYest neighborhoods in Austin. NPRdid a story about it (the Responsible Growth 4 Northcross part). I hate them even when it’s my back yard.

        If I had my way, the whole thing’d be rezoned Austin’s code MF-6 (multifamily, highest density).Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Chris says:


        Out of all the local supermarkets that are walkable to me, Whole Foods is the one I use the least. My favorite is a locally owned greengrocer that has one other location. They have amazingly good produce at low prices. I tend to get my meat and staples like OJ at the big local chain. Whole Foods is best for their beer and wine selection and prepared foods when I am being lazy.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Chris says:

        WF is cheaper than our local supermarket, for veggies and meats, particularly considering the quality.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Whole Foods was meant as a signifier, not necessarily an actual Whole Foods.

        Interestingly, the big chains differ pretty widely depending on the neighborhoods. One of the bourgiest grocery stores in Austin is an HEB a few blocks north of campus (though it now has competition from the new HEB built in Austin’s midtown Mueller neighborhood), while the HEB I used to go to in my old neighborhood was about as run down as it’s possible for a grocery store to be without the code people condemning it.

        HEB is Texas’ big chain grocery store.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris says:


        I remember the day things switched here in Boulder. We’d had lots of small, independently owned natural foods stores for a long time, but then Whole Foods showed up and started dominating the market market. Not too long after that I walked into the North Boulder Safeway and it was like a brand new store on the inside. New floors, new display racks, more flowers, better produce. Very upscale. Very Whole Foodsy. The Longmont Safeway? Still pretty old school (tho it does have a really big organic/natural foods section).Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Chris says:

        Man, Boulder was confusing! We were in town to see the Rockies, and figured we’d swing by a Whole foods to get some grub… What we found, instead, was some sort of small indie grocery store — I suppose it’s run by whole foods, but it sure didn’t look like any whole foods we were familiar with. (hard to find in the dark, too).Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris says:

        I know a guy who thinks he invented the natural-food, organic grocery store (the arrogance of that guy!). It was (is) called “Alfalfas” in opened in the 70s or so, and it’s still here and still (as far as I know) independently owned. We’ve got a few others too: Ideal Market, North Boulder Market… Maybe you hit one of those.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Chris says:

        aha! ideal market, that was what it was.
        Listed on the whole foods website, though…
        Having just gotten out of the main WF branch in Austin, this was a different experience.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Whole Foods definitely changes the game wherever it goes. And its politics…Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris says:

        Ideal Market has a love/hate thing going on with Whole Foods. It was indy, then got bought by WF, then was repurchased by the original ownership group… Maybe they sold it again playing some sorta free-range organic shell game.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to James Hanley says:


      I’ve been thinking about this for a while actually. It seems to me that liberals and conservatives both have status quos that they prefer and others that they would discard. My guess is that liberals want to preserve the status quo in cities out of an aesthetic dislike of chains (see Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York blog as an example)


      This is romantic aestheticism and I can be highly guilty of it as well. There is something much more romantic and historically sound as the Parisian department store or a local cafe or 24 hour dinner over another chain store. There is also the fact that liberals probably feel they are supporting the little guy by being opposed to gentrification. Whether they are or not is another question.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I understand, God(ess?) knows I completely understand. I grew up watching an entire provincial culture crumble into near nothing with the destruction of the industry it depended on. I feel it every time I visit my Mum; I understand the nostalgic longong for the past (and one’s youth) keenly.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I’m as romantic about cities as most people, probably. I hate seeing classic old buildings being torn down, or crappy modern facades put up over the original fronts.

        But then, like most people, I’m not willing to put my money where my heart is, right? I want other people to bear the cost of supporting my romantic aestheticism. Oh, sure, to some extent I’m willing to pay through taxes to provide some subsidies for historic preservation. But only as long as it’s indirect and I don’t feel it too much.

        Actually bearing the cost has a helluva harsh affect on my romantic aesthicism, and I suspect on most other folks’, too.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        I am a bit of an inbetweener on the issue because I don’t think there is an obligation to keep a business open owners want to retire and his or her kids are not interested in continuing the family business. I’ll miss the Strand but if Nancy Bass Wyden (married to Ron Wyden!) and her kids don’t want to continue in the business and can’t find a seller, they can’t find a seller.


        Though it turns out books by the yard is a real business proposition instead of a marketing slogan! Who knew!

        I do think that some of my friends are too romantic about this stuff and don’t quite understand that these are businesses that need to make a profit and sometimes the owners want to retire and selling out is a price that they can’t refuse.

        That being said, I do think that people do underestimate the amount of damage international money and the global whatever small percent can do to a city and drive out residents who actually want to live there.

        I am also more likely to be friends with artists and actors or more middle-class(ish) people over people with oodles of cash. Most of my friends are starting to get pushed further into Brooklyn or are considering leaving the city all together. Some are in a weird spot where they really can’t afford to live in NYC but can’t afford mega commutes to their jobs either.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @saul regarding your last two paragraphs, this is something that I don’t really understand. I am not sure if you personally hold this belief but a lot of restrictionist/rent control advocates somehow seem to think that these regulations keep the wealthy out of world class cities. I really don’t understand it.

        The wealthy are, well, wealthy. They can hire the lawyers, scope the market and if necessary flat out build the ammenities to live in any city they wish to live in. I don’t see how rent control or the like stops them. I’m of the general impression that all the rich people worldwide who want to own property in New York and are willing to pay the cost to do so already own property there. Yet time and again rent control advocates say that “if we do away with rent control then only rich people will live in X city” how do those people think rent control keeps the wealthy out? Again I’m not sure that you specifically espouse this view.

        For my own part the only way I could see a world class city keeping wealthy people out is by making itself so undesirable that the wealthy don’t want to move there… but that is rather burning down the garden to save it yes?Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @james-hanley “But then, like most people, I’m not willing to put my money where my heart is, right? … Actually bearing the cost has a helluva harsh affect on my romantic aesthicism, and I suspect on most other folks’, too.”

        Not really, no.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        when a quarter of the houses in your city are subsiding, I think your “romantic aesthetics” can take a backseat to “building livable houses.” ;-PReport

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        I largely agree with you. NYC and SF have always had really wealthy neighborhoods and residents. I don’t think you are going to change this ever. Rent Control does not keep the wealthy out. FWIW I benefit from rent control. I couldn’t afford to live in SF without out it. I just saw an article that said a single person would need to earn nearly 60 dollars an hour to afford a median apartment rental in SF. It will take years and years of upzoning before that amount goes down. I am not even sure if I could afford Oakland or Berkeley at this point. I probably could. Luckily I work remotely from my apartment but if I didn’t, I think I would loathe the multi-hour commute to SF from whereever I could afford to live and it is questionable about whether I could get a job where I could afford to live.

        What I think people dislike is the seemingly never ending wave of rich people who can move to an area and displace the working class and middle class. This is also combined with frustration and anger about partisan gridlock and endless and seemingly unwinnable debates about whether income inequality is a thing or not, whether we should do something about it if it is a thing or whether we even can. I suspect that you would see less concern with rent control if you also saw a rise in wages or hope for economic mobility and that things would get better. Young people saw their real income decrease during the Great Recession and it does not seem to be getting better.

        There is a Harry Hopkins quote that I like which is “People don’t eat in the future. People eat three times a day.” So telling people letting developers go on a orgy of building will probably reduce rents in 5, 7, 10 years is not going to cut it when they are worried about today.

        But the same side that urges build build build also seems to think dems the breaks when it comes to income inequality and globalization. I don’t think upzoning advocates do a very good job of convincing people that they are really for the poor and middle classes instead they often seem to be more allies for the rich and the global tourist class. I suspect upzoning would get more people to listen if they could think of temporary relief measures while working on a long term problem.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I sympathize there Saul, heck one of the problems with those kinds of programs is they create dependants who suffer if the rules change at all and thus naturally as adamantly opposed to changes. The general solution one sees is transitioning from full on rent control to more liberalized rent control to phasing that out and replacing it with restrictive covenants and low income housing requirements etc… but really no one has solved that problem overall. It’s been either bandaid ripping or it’s been incrimentalism that’s still ongoing.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        The vanishing New York sight is interesting. This thread as migrated into a discussion of rent control and real estate but that wasn’t what its’ originally about. What it was originally about is when a beloved local institution disappears under the logic and pressure of the market.

        In late November, Dance Manhattan closed. For a quarter of a century, Dance Manhattan led the revival of partner dancing. It also was a long time hangout of the LGBT community in New York outside of the gay bar scene. Dance Manhattan didn’t close because it was losing business or unprofitable. It was thriving with lots of loyal customers that paid good money, dance isn’t a cheap hobby, every month to go to Dance Manhattan. Dance Manhattan had to close because their landlord did not renew their lease because Google wanted the space and was willing to pay much more for it. An alternative space could not be found.Report

  20. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    In Oregon we have two cities that have to deal with the “outsiders ruining everything” narrative: Portland and Bend. Sometimes “ruining everything” has to do with outsiders coming in and being tourists; other times, it has to do with them actually moving to Portland or bend to live from another state.

    What’s kind of interesting is this: You can almost always tell how long someone has lived in Portland or Bend based on where they sit on the “I Am Perfectly OK With Tourists and Transplants” to the “Filthy, Nasty Tourists and Transplants — We Hates Them! ” ends of the How Do You Feel About Tourists and Transplants Spectrum.

    The more happy someone is with people from outside vacationing and moving here, the greater chance that person has been here for decades. The more hostile one is about “non-natives” coming here and ruing everything for the rest of us, the better odds that that person had moved here from out of state within the past couple of years.Report

  21. Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

    Irony of the Day – SantaCon participants getting into it w/ Eric Garner protesters.