If you say ‘hipster’, one hears gentrification. And indeed the redevelopment of a run down area runs through phases, of which one of them is the ‘hipster-phase’. But what do we consider as a hipster? What makes a person a hipster anyway? Are we witnessing the end of the hipster era?
Gentrification is the process of value adding activities and initiatives that causes prices of real estate in specific areas to rise. The process is a predictable sequence of phases that step up the living quality and attractiveness of an area. Gentrification is typical for existing urban areas. Newly build neighborhoods have no such process, unless you consider design-planning-building-selling as such a process, prices and the value of the area are determined by design.
Urban life cycle
Most urban areas have a lifecycle. Many urban area escapes the process of
changing from a well appreciated place to live and work, to a declining tendency of interest, finally ending in a rising number of vacancies in apartments and shops.
Look at centers of many European cities in the seventies and nineties of the 20th century. There was a strong wish for families to leave the crowded and dirty urban concentrations and move to the green belts around the city.
If the process of decline can not be stopped in time, inevitably the area reaches its final phase of being run down. People with the better opportunities leave, real estate prices drop and the question rises: what to do next?
The decline of city centers
Prior to the decline of the urban centers in post-war period, large groups, in the flow of the fast growing economies, could afford to buy a car. This private transportation facilitated the separation of place to live and place to work. What remained in the city centers were the places to work. Many offices were still settled in urban concentration areas. How to get the people from their suburban areas to their offices in town, was a big issue in the sixties. Freeways that pushed their way into the heart of the urban fabric, led to demolishing many down town housing. The devaluated situation of those areas made it easier to take them down in favor of a new 4-6 lane road.
This era of full car access to the city centers didn’t last very long. Many protests against the demolition of houses and the impact of car traffic on living conditions and safety in the cities caused a turnaround in perception in the seventies. Cities like Amsterdam stopped filling in its characteristic canals, just in time to turn away from what could have been considered as the worst city planning mistake in the history of the city. The canals are one of the reasons tourists come to Amsterdam.
It were the seventies and eighties that the city centers deteriorated further. Who with any financial means would like to live in this run down ’17th century dump’, the currently so popular canal houses in Amsterdam? But with still many citizens waiting for an affordable house, squatters took their chances and moved into the empty and run down houses.
With the squatters came the artists, looking for cheap workspaces. A new influx of alternative creative and artistic people brought new life to the hearts of the city. It was the beginning of a new appreciation of this part of town.
Enhanced by the neoliberal politics of the late eighties, more and more people saw entrepreneurship as a new way of live. A live in independency, freedom and away from the 8 – 5 workforce. Richard Florida was one of the first to value this trend as important to a vibrant city life. The young urban entrepreneur, the creative, was born. They seemed to be the next phase in the rediscovery of the urban centers. These ‘creatives’ were not as political active and aside from main stream as the squatters and artists, but still an avant garde in bringing new live. In contrast to the squatters and artists, the creatives or ‚hipsters‘ did not challenge the main stream politics, they promoted them. Individualization, ‚doing your own thing’, taking care of your own live, not counting on collective arrangements, that was and still is the neoliberal agenda
The dream of being like Silicon Valley
Many of the creative hipsters are active in design, ICT, web, apps or online marketing. Some of them dreaming of bringing about the next ‚disruptive‘ ground breaking concept or application. Silicon Valley is the mirror to look into. Not just the creatives themselves, but the dream of having some kind of Valley caught the policy makers of cities and counties.
The process of urban redevelopment starting with squatters, to artists, to hipsters and onto creatives, seems to be reaching its final stage: individual entrepreneurship. The ‚alternative‘ makers have become an economical factor, bringing about new jobs and liveliness to the cities. To policy makers consider the influx of individual entrepreneurs as a sign of succes for the city, a sigh of attractiveness.
Hipster has become main stream
It is not hard to see that the hipsters of today have lost their autonomous life style. The dresscode is strict, as one wants to be recognized as hipster. A hipster of today is a self identified human concept. A beard, sneakers, between 20 and 30 years old, running around with a (Apple) laptop, and moving from flex desk to café and back, make up the hipster of 2019. Nowhere near the counter-culture, independent thinking and anti-establisment attitude that hipsters represented in the fifties and sixties. No political protests, no calls for change of ‚the system’, they represent the system.
Hipsters have become a mainstream phenomenon, with strict norms of behavior and main stream political opinions. Being ‘hip’ these days is far from alternative. It has become a life style of confirmation, of being part of the crowd.
For the few authentic hipsters left, autonomous thinkers, political and cultural activist one has to go eastwards. To cities in the eastern parts of Europe, starting with Berlin. Here, one can still find individuals living their own lives, hardly connected with the hustle and bustle of ‚modern‘ and online life. But they are few and underline the overall conclusion that ‚the hipster‘ has transformed to a product of a neoliberal way of life: doing its own thing, at ones own risk, being part of the main stream working crowd and too busy surviving competition to live up to the original alternative and autonomous profile of a ‚hipster’.