Life in a bubble 4: Williamsburg

bedstuy-tag-flickrJust 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.

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Life in a bubble 2: Upper West Side

map oasisnyc uws

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.

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Life in a bubble 1: The Hague

bubble (rachelpasch on flickr)

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.

Papier-mâché ceilings

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De dodelijke combinatie van hitte en ongelijkheid

people sleeping outside heat wave (flickr minnesotahistoricalsociety)

Wat hebben hitte en ongelijkheid met elkaar te maken? Alles, volgens de Amerikaanse socioloog Eric Klinenberg. Hij schreef het boek Heatwave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago (2002) waarin hij verklaart waarom er gedurende een hittegolf in 1995 meer dan 700 mensen doodgingen. Die mensen gingen niet gewoon dood van de hitte: de hitte kon alleen maar dodelijk zijn in combinatie met specifieke sociale en fysieke omstandigheden.

Ik las het boek toen ik in 2008 als promovendus aan New York University de cursus Urban Sociology (gedoceerd door Harvey Molotch) volgde. Vast heb ik toen gedacht: waarom lees ik in het kader van stadssociologie over een hittegolf? Maar ik ontdekte dat het een heel fascinerende sociologische studie is (bovendien bekroond met meerdere prijzen). Klinenberg gebruikt de hittegolf als aanleiding om de problematiek van buurtsegregatie, ongelijkheid, onveiligheid en falend sociaal beleid te doorgronden.

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Armoede in docuserie Rondkomen in de Schilderswijk

Television (flickr medhuis)

In oktober-november zond RTL4 de docuserie Rondkomen in de Schilderswijk uit. De programmamakers wilden een documentaire maken over armoede in Nederland. Ik vroeg me af wat het programma de kijker nu eigenlijk vertelt over armoede en schreef daarover dit stuk voor weblog Sargasso: Krijgen we door ‘Rondkomen in de Schilderswijk’ meer inzicht in armoede?

Update 16/12: Lees hier de reactie (via Twitter) van programmamaker Peter van der Vorst.

Inspired by the tv-series Benefits Street, the Dutch channel RTL4 recently broadcasted a series titled (my translation) Getting by in the Schilderswijk. The Schilderswijk is a neighbourhood in the third largest city The Hague. Many of its residents are socioeconomically disadvantaged. A recent study shows that one of the poorest areas in the country is located here. Based on a collection of thoughts on poverty porn, I wondered what this show really tells us about poverty and wrote a short blog post about it for weblog Sargasso (in Dutch). In line with Bernhard Wagner’s analysis, I conclude that the question of how people manage to get by (or not) on a low income is largely absent from the show, and that by focusing on blameworthy behaviour and individual responsibility the ‘documentary’ offers a distorted image of (the causes of) poverty.

Photo by Jiří Zralý on Flickr