What happens to “hipsturbia” when the wealthy start building 30,000 square foot homes?

The “hipsturbia” of Hastings-on-Hudson, New York may never be the same with the pending construction of a 30,000 square foot home:

In this comfortable Westchester County community, many residents like to think of their village as the anti-suburb, jokingly calling it the Upper Upper West Side.

With painters, writers, jazz musicians and web designers liberally represented among the population of 8,000, the village displays an arty, slightly irreverent ethos. Subarus with bumper stickers that say “Make Dinner, Not War” outnumber the BMWs with vanity plates. Teenage rock groups are overshadowed by their parents’ bands; Housewives on Prozac is a local favorite. Residents are more likely to play down their wealth than to flaunt it.

So it came as a surprise when residents learned that a house was rising in their midst that was not only over the top for Hastings, but also called for superlatives even for Westchester, one of the richest counties in the entire nation.

The contemporary structure and accompanying pool house together measure more than 30,000 square feet. The underground garage is 3,572 square feet, larger than most of the Tudors and Colonials in town. On the application for a building permit, the construction costs were estimated at more than $40 million.

Maybe we could think of waves of gentrification: hipsters and creative types (think Richard Florida’s “creative class”) can represent a first wave that is willing to move into edgier (grittier, more authentic, cheaper) areas. However, what happens when these increasingly wealthy and educated areas start to attract the uber-wealthy? How does that big money fit with certain hipster values? The article ends by noting that the wealthy couple are Democratic and the big home features alternative energy, so perhaps it is less about money than it is about having the right progressive values. Big homes might be okay as long as the owners have the right morality about such homes.

The other interesting dynamic is that this all is taking place in a suburban setting, specifically in wealthy Westchester County. Hastings-on-Hudson is fairly suburban in its demographics: 85.2% white, the median household income is over $114,000 (the US median is around $50,000), and over 66% of adults have bachelor’s degrees. In other words, this suburban location may be hipsterish but it is certainly not that diverse in terms of race or social class.

“Creating Hipsturbia in the Suburbs”

What happens when hipsters move to the suburbs? The New York Times takes a look at a few New York City suburbs where hipsters have moved:

You no longer have to take the L train to experience this slice of cosmopolitan bohemia. Instead, you’ll find it along the Metro-North Railroad, roughly 25 miles north of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in the suburb of Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.

Here, beside the gray-suited salarymen and four-door minivans, it is no longer unusual to see a heritage-clad novelist type with ironic mutton chops sipping shade-grown coffee at the patisserie, or hear 30-somethings in statement sneakers discuss their latest film project as they wait for the 9:06 to Grand Central.

As formerly boho environs of Brooklyn become unattainable due to creeping Manhattanization and seven-figure real estate prices, creative professionals of child-rearing age — the type of alt-culture-allegiant urbanites who once considered themselves too cool to ever leave the city — are starting to ponder the unthinkable: a move to the suburbs.

But only if they can bring a piece of the borough with them.

To ward off the nagging sense that a move to the suburbs is tantamount to becoming like one’s parents, this urban-zen generation is seeking out palatable alternatives — culturally attuned, sprawl-free New York river towns like Hastings, Dobbs Ferry, Irvington and Tarrytown — and importing the trappings of a twee lifestyle like bearded mixologists, locavore restaurants and antler-laden boutiques.

My quick thoughts:

1. If the future of American suburbs is indeed densification, as a number of experts have suggested, then this is something that was bound to happen. At the same time, it remains to be seen how much hipsters will really change or adapt to these communities.

2. Hipsters may be in the suburbs but I suspect some suburbs are a lot more palatable to them than others. In other words, perhaps they are more likely to move to places with artistic or creative backgrounds, where travel to the big city is relatively easy, and where there is room to create a small community. Additionally, perhaps these suburbs have to be friendly to hipsters – and this might require having a population of relatively educated residents.

3. Perhaps hipsters might even like the suburbs? This might go against their general outlook on life but the hipsters in the article, like many other Americans, can see some of the benefits of the suburban lifestyle. And if hipsters can survive and like parts of suburbs, why not academics?

NPR reports on the state of American hipsterdom

NPR sums up the state of the American hipster scene:

On the streets of Franklin and Nashville and almost every town throughout America now, hipsters scuttle by on scooters, zip around in Zipcars or Smart cars, roll by on fixed-gear bikes or walk about in snazzy high-top sneakers and longboard shorts. They snap Instagram photos of each other — in black skinny jeans and T-shirts with funky epigrams like “If You Deny It, You Are A Hipster” — and turn the pix into iPhone cases. They buy cool-cat snuggle clothes at American Eagle and down-market monkey boots at Urban Outfitters. They drink cheap beer, listen to music on vinyl records and decorate their lairs with upcycled furniture.

They follow indie bands and camp out at Occupy movements. They work as programmers and shop clerks, baristas and bartenders. They are gamers and volunteers, savvy entrepreneurs and out-of-work basement dwellers.

In case you haven’t noticed, hipsters — and those who cater to them — are everywhere. And that really galls some hipsters…

You might think that as hipsterism ripples out, in concentric (and eccentric) circles farther and farther from its big-city epicenters, the ultra-coolitude would lose its authenticity, Furia says, “but the opposite may be true. Cities are known for setting trends; hipsterism is about anti-trends. It sounds funny, but hipsters in Omaha may actually be cooler than hipsters in New York City — everyone knows about New York City.”

I don’t know that this report adds much to what has already been noted about hipsters – see an earlier example here. Here is the question I would really love to hear people answer: what comes after hipsters? How long until hipsters are no longer cool and another group takes over? What’s the next “cool” group?

Australian hipsters eschew suburbs, McMansions while immigrants seek after them

An Australian author argues that hipsters favor the authentic and gritty over suburbs and McMansions while immigrants hold different views:

In movies and TV shows, kids now talk wistfully of getting out of the ‘burbs and heading to funky town, the exact opposite of our grandparents, who drove the other way in search of an extra bedroom, a lawn and somewhere to barbecue the chops.

The aforementioned Great Australian Dream is apparently a nightmare for many hipsters; as laughably daggy as John Williamson singing about plum trees, ”a clothesline out the back, verandah out the front and an old rocking chair”…

Writing recently in Canada’s Toronto Standard, Navneet Alang observes, ”it’s a profoundly privileged, Western idea to want to forsake sterility for the ‘real and gritty’…

Their visions are probably pretty similar to those of our grandparents – a lawn and a nice, big, neat, bland house – because, as Alang writes, ”Once you’ve lived in a developing nation, sterile can feel good. Uncluttered is good. Cars are good.”

The author goes on to suggest that perhaps these young Australians simply think the grass is greener on the other side: after growing up in suburbs, these young people are now looking to urban life. Several thoughts about this:

1. It would be interesting to see survey data about what immigrants imagine America to be before they arrive or even during their early months in the United States. Does it look like suburbia? Is their goal from the beginning to make it to the suburbs?

2. The sterility of the suburbs, often held in contrast to the authenticity, richness, and contrasts of the big city, is an old argument. Just listen to Malvina Reynolds’ song “Little Boxes” for an overview. (Interestingly, more people probably know this song now because it is the theme song for a trendy/novel current TV show: Weeds.) I would guess that many suburban residents, particularly those older than hipster age, actually prefer the suburbs over the city because of this sterility: the city may be more interesting but this interesting could also include negative outcomes.

3. Could we see the rise of hipster suburbs or at least hipster enclaves within suburbs? For example, inner-ring suburbs would be perfect places for hipster types: denser and cheaper housing in neighborhoods that have been around a century or more. There are a number of neighborhoods in these suburbs ripe for gentrification (though there could be disadvantages to this). Also, newer New Urbanist developments or neighborhoods might offer the authenticity hipsters seek.

A new book considers the “Hipster”

A new and short guide to the Hipster has been published: What Was the Hipster: A Sociological Investigation. One writer gives a concise guide to when the term came into popular usage:

According to a panel convened by n+1 last year at the New School, the term “hipster” re-entered the contemporary lexicon in or about 1999 (it had earlier been used interchangeably with “hepcat” in the Beat era), with the arrival of modish young men in trucker hats on Bedford Avenue.

This seems to be one of those buzz words that is difficult to define exactly. And what percentage of hipsters live on college campuses?

The book title also seems to suggest that hipsters have already had their time. If this is the case, what is next?