The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

22 September 2005

Almost literally tragically hip

Joel Kotkin has been critical of Richard Florida's "creative class" notions, suggesting that catering to hipsters and such, emphasizing cultural amenities and some vague aura of "tolerance" over other attributes, as Florida recommends, is no way to run a contemporary city.

It was certainly no way to run New Orleans:

Perhaps there is no more searing evidence of the limitations of a culture-based economy than New Orleans. Once a great industrial and commercial centre, the city — despite its huge port — has roughly half the US average of jobs in manufacturing and wholesale trade. Other, more business-focused cities, notably Houston, have taken the lead in the high-paid service jobs connected to trade, such as finance, engineering and medical services. The energy industry, once the linchpin of the local economy, also decamped, primarily to Houston. All this happened despite New Orelans being a city that was heavily gay, very cool and extremely hip.

By the time of the flood, tourism and culture, along with a huge social service bureaucracy, was driving the economy. The problem, of course, is that tourism pays poorly; a 2002 study for the AFL-CIO showed that nearly half of all full-time hotel workers could not earn enough to keep a family out of poverty.

Lost in the ghastly images of New Orleans's poor is the fact that the city's whites, about 27 per cent of the population, are wealthier and more educated than their counterparts nationwide. They, of course, welcomed the new nightclubs, coffee shops and galleries that dotted their grander neighbourhoods. New Orleans epitomised the inequality of the hip cool city. While the national gap between black and white per capita income stands at about $9,000, in New Orleans it is almost $20,000.

I hear occasional rumblings from yupsters to the effect that this town is dull, repressive and soul-sucking. (The presumably temporary ascent to "major-league" status won't make the slightest bit of difference, the NBA being bourgeois entertainment for persons of insufficient brow elevation.) There is a common complaint that development in Lower Bricktown, under the aegis of Randy Hogan, is insufficiently brickulous: big-box things like the Bass Pro Shop and Toby Keith's theme eatery, they say, could have been built out in the 'burbs, making more room available for the sort of urban chic they desire. After wandering around the Northeast for a few summers, I'm inclined to think that the single most effective way of creating "urban ambiance" of this sort is to cut the street width by forty percent. Imagine how well that will go over.

There is some evidence, though, that Oklahoma City has some semblance of a clue. After all, they're spending twice the price of MAPS to spruce up an urban school district; it's clear that they're not going to cede the middle class to the second ring of suburbs without a fight. And what kind of a city has an uppercrust, an underclass, and nothing much in between?


(Found at Tinkerty Tonk.)

Posted at 11:17 AM to Almost Yogurt

What kind of city? Most cities. At least here in the Northeast. And I don't know how they'd turn back the clock. In NYC, rent control--started as a temporary measure during World War II--caused builders to stop building and left the middle classes unable to expand affordably when their families got bigger. Schools began declining, crime went up and you know the rest--til Guiliani took over. But it's still not a comfortable place for middle class families with kids.

Posted by: Rachel at 12:01 PM on 22 September 2005

The problem, of course, is that tourism pays poorly; a 2002 study for the AFL-CIO showed that nearly half of all full-time hotel workers could not earn enough to keep a family out of poverty.

And yet, in Alaska and many places in the western U.S., tourism is touted as "the" route for economic growth since things like lumber, mining and ranching are so ugly and messy.

Posted by: McGehee at 10:01 AM on 23 September 2005

Hiptser, ultra-cool, urbanite types tend to be godless hedonites, scorch their digs and salt the earth...crush them, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their loved ones.

Posted by: paulsmos at 11:21 AM on 23 September 2005

This is perhaps another advantage of Oklahoma City: we have no discernible tourist traps, and we know it.

Posted by: CGHill at 7:27 PM on 23 September 2005

As a former resident of Oklahoma City (I loved and supported that city and lived in the heart of the city, not in some white flight suburb), a double graduate of OU (BS, Ph.D.), I was driven from the city in search of gainful employment when Oklahoma City fell into an economic death spiral in 1984. I found a home in New Orleans and learned to love the city but was always aware of the dark underbelly of crime. I loved the city inspite of its warts. How dare all of the national and international media people pronounce judgement on my city without knowledge of the intricacies and components that make up the delicious gumbo known as New Orleans!

Thanks to 40 years of the Great Society and the creation of a totally dependent group of citizens that are not great, New Orleans has a large population of people that refuse to accept responsibility for themselves. They have been told that they are incapable of caring for themselves, the white man is responsible for their sorry situations, education is not worthwhile, and that the government will provide their every desire. Some of these people have never seen a family member go to work or hold a job. Perhaps drug dealer, pimp, or violent criminal apply as careers? I resent the term minority when applied to the African-American population of New Orleans. White and black, educated, employed, tax-paying people are the minority here. I know the people shown at the Superdome after the storm. I see them daily. I see them in the stores buying expensive luxury items and lottery tickets. I see them go to the casinos. Yet, none of them want to work or to educate themselves. Education should be a valued journey not merely a means to a high paying job.

Posted by: Queenfisher at 10:25 AM on 25 September 2005