Thursday, March 19, 2009

Is Uptown a Hipster Haven?

In recent years Uptown has taken on a reputation as being a “hipster” neighborhood. What exactly does that mean, was it true, and is it still true today? And, perhaps most significantly, does it matter?

Despite the frequent references to “hipster neighborhoods” in popular culture, there is no one standard definition agreed upon by everyone. While they all share many common characteristics – most notably the presence of hipsters themselves – there seem to be a range of diversity, economic situation, and overall level of “grittiness” in hipster neighborhoods. Uptown seems to be sort of in the middle on the spectrum of hipster neighborhoods; less diverse than many, not as recently gentrified, yet still relatively affordable in its local context (key word is “relatively.") For my own purposes, I’m going to go with Richard Florida’s definition of a “hipster haven” (from Who’s Your City?):

"With just the right combination of city grit and posh, hipster havens tend to attract a relatively affluent crowd – that doesn’t want to appear too affluent. Music scenes, nightclubs, and coffee shops pop up everywhere in their wake, as older residents either cash out or are pushed out. Hipster havens also attract the bridge-and-tunnel crowd on the weekends – people from the suburbs who can’t quite stomach city life during the week but like to visit from Friday through Sunday."

Florida cites Williamsburg (NY), Wicker Park (Chicago), Montrose (Houston), and West Hollywood (LA) as examples of hipster havens. His description of the issues facing hipster havens should sound familiar to Uptown watchers: rising rents (both commercial and rental) and the resulting loss of independent or “authentic” businesses and residents. Noise is also an issue, as apparently all those nightlife-loving hipsters keep late hours.

So is Uptown a hipster haven? While I think it is, to some degree, I think it’s also straddling the line into another neighborhood type, one Florida dubs “designer digs.” Designer digs, he says, “feature upscale condos, renovated town houses, organic markets, posh grocery stores, and niche boutiques.” In the case of Uptown, the Wedge and CARAG tend to lean towards the hipster haven side, while ECCO and East Isles have greater designer digs tendencies. The result is a blend of the two in the commercial core and up and down Hennepin.

A couple of statistics pulled from the recent Uptown Small Area Plan have some bearing on this discussion. Despite Uptown’s reputation as a young neighborhood, it is in fact aging. There are now 30 percent fewer 20 to 24-year-old residents in Uptown than there were in 2000, while the percentage of 55- to 65-year-olds has grown by nearly 40 percent in that same period. Assuming that hipsters tend to be young, that suggests a transition away from a traditional hipster haven. Presumably they’re moving east towards Whittier and Lyn-Lake, or over Northeast, an area frequently labeled as Uptown’s successor.

I appreciate that Uptown has a reputation as an interesting, exciting place to visit. I like that it has developed a regional, and even national, reputation. The thing I don’t like about the hipster label, accurate or not, is that it oversimplifies things and highlights one group of residents at the expense of the rest of the neighborhood. Uptown is more than just hipsters; an over-emphasis on one neighborhood element discounts the fact that many types of people live here, including plenty who roll their eyes when they see hipsters rolling down the street. Pegging a neighborhood as a certain type, especially when urban neighborhoods such as Uptown are constantly evolving and changing, isn’t accurate, and could potentially be damaging if too many Twin Cities residents or new arrivals write off Uptown as a place for families, old people, non-hip young people, or anyone else who doesn’t wear horn-rimmed glasses and swig PBR.

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