The Sixth Borough

If there’s one thing sure to ruin my lazy Sunday equipoise, it’s the Sunday Styles section of The New York Times. With the status-mongering wedding announcements, the spot-the-trend pieces, the ultra-shallow Modern Love column about the love foibles of the terminally narcissistic, the photo collage of lame fashion styles that the lemmings have all adopted, it’s a concertrated compendium of all the things that are lousy about living in New York; all that’s missing is the pungent smell of summer garbage.

It isn’t enough for it to ruin New York, now it’s trying to ruin Philadelphia, too, by claiming it as “The next borough” of New York, the new destination for hipsters now that they’ve started to get priced out of Brooklyn. (Thank God they’re not coming to Queens.) On the front page of the Sunday Styles today is a picture of more or less central-casting hipsterfolk who make my entire life feel like a cliche. They have all moved to Philadelphia to liberate themselves from high rents to concentrate more on their dream lifestyles — producing more art or starting their own businesses doing what they used to do for someone else in New York. Personally, I love Philadelphia; it’s the city closest to where I grew up, I lived there for a few years in the 1990s, and I know lots of homeowners there now — people who could be lumped in with the Sunday Styles profilees. But what made it a great place was its skepticism for the kind of self-conscious hipsterism that ex-pat Williamsburgers will likely bring, the smug sense of the righteousness of their avant lifestyles. These people will turn the elements of old-style Phila into kitsch while teaching the current inhabitants how to take themselves too seriously. Anything hyped as “edgy and creative” would have been laughed out of town in the old days; it would have made people paranoid, if nothing else. All such designations do is raise the level of expectation people feel obliged to keep up with. This infiltration of T-shirted post-Brooklynites undermines what fragile core of identity Philadelphia once had by raising the standard of comparison to what is au courant in New York. As many studies of consumption from Duesenberry on up point out, the comparisons we make with those we consider to be our average peers are the ones that determine how content we are with what we are consuming — the New Yorkers bring with them a higher standard that makes what Philadelphians have long been content with seem lame. As everyone adapts, the regional flavor will disappear, and my childhood memories will continue to vanish into trendy restaurants and condo buildings. That’s progress.