Who Is A City For?
Yesterday was Santacon. Santacon is an annual event where a huge young (usually white) people dress up as Santa and some theoretically sexy variant of Ms. Claus or one of Santa’s Elves and go bar hoping in the city. They also tend to drink enough alcohol to throw up on the street. Santacon is a big event in New York and San Francisco. The website says it occurs in cities all over the United States and World but I don’t know how big it is as a thing outside of SF and NY.
Santacon seems to an event that is either one of the social highlights of the year or among a person’s least favorite days of the year depending on their prospective. Most of my friends dislike it with extreme passion and feel like the annual storm of SantaConers is something like Alaric and the Visigoths sacking Rome. 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.
In theme related news, Adam Gopnik files a story about Parisians being hostile and indifferent to two tourist attractions. The Parisians are up in arms about the closing and changing of the La Samaritaine Department Store. The store is turning from an institution that catered to the taste and fancies of middle-class Parisians to a 5 star hotel and luxury beacon meant to please new money flooding in from Asia. The change is being done by the luxury conglomerate Louis Vuitton Money Hennessey (L.V.M.H.) Parisians seem to be largely indifferent to the Pont des Arts bridge. The bridge connects the Left and Right Banks and has become a site for popular tourist items called Love Locks. Lovers buy cheap padlocks, scribble their initials on them and then attach the padlocks to the bridge. The padlocks are causing the bridge to bear too much weight. Two American women are trying to save the bridge from collapse but their campaign is being met with indifference and hostility because the Love Locks are good selling point to Paris as the City of Love.
All three of these stories relate to a theme that I’ve written about several times on OT and have had debates about here. The question about all the stories is really one of Who is a City For. Is it for the residents who live, work, and raise families in the city? Is it for suburbanites who come into work and occasionally for pleasure but then return to their quieter communities? Or is it for tourists who provide a large amount of income to the city via spending and hotel taxes? The answer is probably all three and none but there is always going to be a massive amount of tension especially when residents feel like they are being denied services or have to clean up with a mess caused by outsiders.
I question whether most SantaCon participants are from the suburbs. There are probably plenty that do come from the suburbs. My friends told me that Penn Station was packed with people in Santa Suits yesterday and that the Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey trains banned drinking on the trains for a day to deal with the chaos. I can say that taking Long Island Rail Road during St. Patrick’s Day is unusually packed and it is possible to get a ride without buying a ticket because the conducter can’t get through to check. But there are probably plenty of Santa Con fans that live in New York and San Francisco because cities are still generally filled with young people before they start families. One of the most interesting things about the urban landscape is seeing neighborhoods attract residents based on culture-lifestyle choices. There is a section of San Francisco called the Marina which is largely considered an extension of Greek Row because of the alleged Fratish behavior of the residents in said neighborhood. A person who chooses to live in Murray Hill in NYC is different than someone who is attracted to scruffier Williamsburg or the literary genteelness of Brownstone Brooklyn. One of the biggest complaints about condo-building in Williamsburg is that it is attracting people who would normally have moved to the Upper East Side or Murray Hill. Frozen Yogurt chains replace local dives.
Calling the Santa Con attendees outsiders allows people to control the narrative of who is and who is not a proper San Franciscan. A proper San Franciscan is someone who moved here because they were attracted by the bohemian-hippie-radical history of the city and there are plenty of people who move to SF from other places because of this history. An improper San Franciscan is someone who moves here for a job or to get rich in the tech industry. Proper New Yorkers are artsy and literary, not frat boys in business. And I say this as someone who also finds Santacon to be a large inconvenience and dislikes how tech is outpricing people who have lived in San Francisco for decades.
But still many Santa Con participants are outsiders and they do come into the city and wreck general havoc while residents are trying to go about their business and jobs and this is vexing.
I think the reason that Parisians are more upset about the demise of La Samaritaine is because it was theirs. Tourists did not shop at La Samaritaine but at the more upscale Galleries Lafayette. Parisians probably do not use the Pont des Arts so it seems less of waste for the bridge to collapse under the weight of cheesy love locks. Parisians don’t lose access to the bridge because tourists like love locks like they lose out on a place that catered to them as locals with the demise of La Samaritaine.
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. The local bar with reasonably priced drinks is replaced by an upscale bar with 15 dollar cocktails. The supermarket within walking distance is replaced by fancy boutique retail. Or a local green grocer becomes a J.Crew. New York City refrigerators tend to be smaller than your average American fridge. People go grocery shopping on a more regular basis in NYC than doing a weekly or bi-weekly trip.
Tourism and stuff like conventions is important to the economic life of almost every major city even when there is a lot of business and industry that is independent of the tourist trade. Tourists also depend on local businesses for services and entertainment. The problem is that seemingly globalization and outside money is taking away resources from locals and this creates a strong amount of ire and tension in locals. The problem is how to prevent the seeming unending ways in which businesses for locals are being replaced by businesses for tourists.
Note that Wet Seal does also maintain a frequent buyer program
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