Just before Christmas last year, I moved from the Upper West Side (Manhattan) to the neighbourhood Williamsburg (Brooklyn). While I knew that Williamsburg is the quintessential gentrifying neighbourhood, I was astonished to find out that most of Williamsburg – and most of Brooklyn that was within a 45-minute commute to work – was pretty much off limits in terms of rent. And I’m not exactly poor.
PBS recently published a quiz ‘Do you live in a bubble?’, which American political scientist Charles Murray put together for his book Coming Apart (2012). For Murray, living in a bubble means ‘restriction to your exposure to average American life’ which results in being ‘clueless about mainstream white America.’ His book (which I haven’t read) is about the formation of ‘a high-IQ, highly educated new upper class’ over the last half century with ‘a culture of its own that is largely disconnected from the culture of mainstream white America.’
The 1st of the 25 questions (which are a bit difficult to answer if you didn’t spend many years of your life in the U.S.) is the following:
After living in a bubble in The Hague for eight months, I moved to one of the wealthiest urban areas of the U.S. – of the world perhaps. For nearly four months I was lucky enough to have a place to live in the Upper West Side in Manhattan. Now that the time has come to move on – to Brooklyn – it’s time to look back. You might expect that in a Manhattan enclave for the well-to-do, the bubble was like a bunker, in which life is not only confined to a limited space but views to the ‘outside’ world are near impossible. However, my experience has been different.
According to Stephen Higley, who has a website that investigates ‘racial integration in America’s wealthiest neighborhoods and suburbs’, the Upper West Side ranks 33rd in a list of richest urban neighbourhoods in the U.S. (based on 2010 data). According to the website where Higley gets his information from, the median household income in my zip code (part of the UWS) was a little over 110,000 dollar, while the median house price was around 1 million dollar (in 2010). My zip code ranked #91 in the list of wealthiest zip codes in New York State.
In the past seven months I feel I have experienced what it’s like ‘living in a bubble.’ I borrow the term from an article on gentrifiers living in London, written by urban sociologist Tim Butler, which describes how gentrifiers, ‘despite a strong rhetoric in favour of social integration,’ in their day-to-day lives lived ‘quite apart from non-middle-class residents.’
But I’m going to use the term differently. Because in the past seven months I have not lived in a gentrifying area but in a middle- and upper-class area, one of the ‘best’ neighbourhoods of The Hague. Why? So I can write auto-ethnographic blog posts, let’s just leave it at that.