In a recent article , Richard Florida, an author whose writing and thinking I greatly admire, tackled the issue of the increasing stratification of the population of NYC by income. Florida uses income in this article as a proxy for classes: “creatives”, blue-collar and service-class people. What he finds is that rather than the notion of the urban city as one in which all sorts of people rub shoulders against each other on a regular basis, NYC has become a place whereby there are distinct areas where the so-called “creatives” live, and others for the service-sector folks. There are precious few blue-collar enclaves, and few where there is a broad distribution of incomes.
Thus one finds the area in which I grew up, Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, to be 89% service-class, at least in terms of their incomes. Other areas, especially in Manhattan or the parts of Brooklyn close to Manhattan, are almost exclusively home to higher income residents.
It’s relatively easy to understand how this happens. Property in Manhattan is quite valuable due to well, being in Manhattan. It would make sense as well that some neighborhoods in Brooklyn, located quite close to Manhattan and an easy commute, and often graced with lovely old brownstones, would tend to absorb the overflow from Manhattan, and in turn become gentrified. So what appears to be happening is the formation of two New Yorks; wealthier better educated enclaves of professionals and creatives, and the working stiffs who have lower paid jobs and reside in further out parts of the boroughs.
So what does this imply for anything from city services such as street cleaning, snow removal, police protection or to the availability of taxis (ever try to find a Yellow Cab outside of Manhattan?). And more, if one of the “bennies” of urban living is supposed to be the transference of ideas and energies between people as they interact with each other on a daily basis, what does this increased stratification imply? What does it mean if “the creatives” interact mostly with their own kind, and the service-class with theirs? If on a regular basis one who resides and works in Manhattan absorbs the often dynamic and vibrant street scene, has interesting conversations in the cafes with others, can pop into intriguing stores, visit museums and engage in all manner of stimulating activity available to them right where they live and work? And the service-class folks, living in areas where retail often consists of purveyors of fried chicken, cell phones and car service companies? How likely are they to have chance encounters with members of the creative classes and absorb ideas from vibrant streets around them?
I doubt that what Florida has found in NYC is unique. I think this very well is true in other parts of the country. It’s likely that in NYC the lines are more sharply drawn and the inequalities more distinct. But I doubt that this is only happening here. What I am wondering is what this implies for the notion of the urban city as this place where the teeming masses interact and gain from this? Is there anything lost if the creative classes find themselves only interacting with those who think like them? And so forth for the service-class?