Archive for the 'Hierarchy' Category

High Definition Living

August 14, 2006

My Brooklyn neighborhood, Cobble Hill, is about three blocks wide and ten blocks long. The adjoining neighborhoods, Carroll Gardens and Boerum Hill, are larger, but not by much. Then, about a mile away, there’s Bedford-Stuyvesant, a neighborhood which is roughly the size of, I dunno, Rhode Island, and probably has more people.

Why has my corner of Brooklyn been geographically divided to the point where almost every block gets its own name, while Bed-Stuy remains a massive monolith, an undivided mass sprawling over the center of the borough? It’s not that my area particularly lends itself to slicing and dicing. Cobble Hill, with its brownstones and trees and mom-pop shops, looks and feels pretty much like Boerum Hill, which looks and feels like Carroll Gardens. In fact, before the area gentrified, folks referred to the entire lump as “South Brooklyn” and didn’t bother making distinctions beyond that.

So it’s obvious: my corner of Brooklyn has been carved up and categorized with surgical precision because it’s gotten relatively wealthy. Manhattan is even sillier. You get neighborhoods like NoLiTa (north of Little Italy) which, as far as I can tell, consists entirely of a handful of upscale dress shops. And when you’re really rich, something as granular as your street becomes a neighborhood of its own: Park Avenue. You could probably come up with an equation: (average income) x (n) / (population density) = size of the neighborhood in city blocks.

Is this just a real estate thing? It seems one of the priviliges of wealth and prestige is the ability to more sharply define oneself relative to ones peers. Detailed categorization is a form of attention, which is a form of flattery. We carve up high-prestige professions like doctor and lawyer into hundreds of specialties, but a janitor is a janitor is a janitor. We can identify a dozen varieties of hipster, but we’re lost when asked to dice a train car full of 20-something Jerseyites into sociological subcategories. If you can afford Starbucks, you’re no longer just a coffee person, you can be a skinny-iced-latte-two-sugars kind of person. You’re special!

I’m wondering if there’s money to be made here. Instead of selling someone a product that aids in self definition, whether it be real estate, or designer dog food, could I get paid to simply tell people who they are and where they fit in? I could charge $50 for a one paragraph description, $1000 for a full-blown study with scatter graphs. If someone did this for me, I could save a bundle on the rent.