Big cities are wasted by the rich
Which city is described here? A disproportionate share of the most interesting restaurants, markets, street fashion, architect-designed houses, cafes, independent theaters, bookstores, artists, festivals, conversations, village neighborhoods, legal and gray economy nightlife, art house cinemas and small businesses exist in neighborhoods that were once denounced as “problems”.
To their west, several miles and an even greater psychic distance, is the super-prime level of residential property. The rebellious sons and daughters of this world often fail the former, but that’s about the extent of diplomatic contact.
As I prepare to leave one (LA) for another (London), I am certain that no one is worse for living in big cities than their wealthiest inhabitants. Nobody pays more for the privilege and extracts less from the potential. In most cases, innate bad taste is less the problem than a fixable misunderstanding of the best neighborhoods.
As fossilized as the food scene is, void of street life, lacking a sense of place, it’s understandable that someone would want to live in Bel-Air, Neuilly or Knightsbridge. (Spacious houses, as this childless man must constantly remind himself, have their uses.) But not treating these houses as water lilies from which to explore the most textured and protean neighborhoods of these cities would seem to go to the defeats the purpose of an urban environment. life first. You’re left to deduce that what the class in question loves isn’t so much cities as addresses. To buy it is to ask for the last bottle of the last page of the wine list, whatever it is.
Don’t allow me to pass myself off as an urban frontier here. I chose Dupont Circle over the trendy H Street corridor in Washington. I write this in Silver Lake long after the vanguard of Los Angeles has moved across the river and ever further east. Next time you hear from me, I’ll be in Hampstead, home of reclusive pop stars and Arsenal and Tottenham first eleven. Hipster has spread to South East London – my quadrant of the city, by upbringing – is something I only half understand. Neighborhoods are not binary, and my taste goes to those who play with bohemianism without committing to it.
Precisely because of this exposure to the one percent of the one percent, however, I know how much they miss. And how unknowingly they miss it.
Every once in a while, there’s a joking news article about hedgies deciding not to move to Geneva, regardless of the tax and regulatory benefits. Why they consider life in Holland Park more scintillating is never specified. Whether by the Pacific or by the Seine, a walk in such residential luxury is reminiscent of the breathtaking end of episode 7 of Civilization, and Kenneth Clark’s signature on the banality of wealth. “I wonder if a single thought that helped move the human spirit forward was ever conceived or written in a huge room.”
Claiming the equidistance between the bourgeois and the bohemians, I sometimes offer myself to the former as a tourist guide. “Another time,” comes the usual response. It was a recent delight to receive a text from a late East End discoverer (“Hackney. Fucking hell”) but also a rare text.
This incuriosity is global. It is possible to visit East Los Angeles a few times and get to know it better than some Angelenos in a lifetime west of the 405 or even La Cienega Boulevard. At some point, this innocence ceases to be endearing and becomes a kind of civic abdication. Their best line of defense is not the geographic distances involved: Brentwood to Echo Park is the same travel time as, say, Chelsea to Dalston. It’s that the same attitude prevails at Park Avenue, Charlottenburg and beyond. It is the trait of an overclass who wants to live in the big cities of the world without always seeming to know why.
Over the past generation, this class has inspired resentment for the townspeople prize of a more creative band. But there are different types of victimization. It’s no small pain, you know, to have something as enticing as a city at your disposal and to end up at Nobu.
Email Janan at [email protected]
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