Wednesday, August 14, 2013

In search of 'hipsturbias' yet to come

Downtown Waxhaw: A 'hipsturbia' of the future? Photo: Nancy Pierce
Just the term "hipsturbia" makes you want to hear more. It appears to have been coined in a New York Times article in February, "Creating Hipsturbia," which created serious buzz. It described a trend of formerly urban hipsters moving out to suburban towns because they couldn't afford housing in the city, but who didn't want to give up their trendy accouterments or shopping:

"As formerly boho environs of Brooklyn become unattainable due to creeping Manhattanization and seven-figure real estate prices, creative professionals of child-rearing age — the type of alt-culture-allegiant urbanites who once considered themselves too cool to ever leave the city — are starting to ponder the unthinkable: a move to the suburbs.

But only if they can bring a piece of the borough with them."
 I took part in some lively discussion Tuesday at a Civic By Design forum on whether Charlotte or its environs has any "hipsturbia" spots or even hipsturbia-in-waiting areas. As you would imagine, even trying to define the term (much less defining what's a hipster) was a discussion point.
  • Must places that attract hipsters be "gritty"?  
  • Does a place that planners would say is a walkable, mixed-use urban neighborhood (example: Baxter in Fort Mill, S.C.) lack hipster cred if it's all new?
  • What about some of the region's smaller towns with historic downtowns surrounded by standard suburbia, places like Belmont, Waxhaw, etc.? Does the presence of a traditional historic downtown overrule the dominance of suburbia?

Some of the comments:
Scott Curry, a planner with the Lawrence Group: It seems like hipsters gravitate toward cheap space, and places that offer "unregulated" environments. His example in Charlotte: NoDa, the old mill village neighborhood centered on 36th and North Davidson streets.

Other key attributes, Curry proposed: Gritty, unpolished neighborhoods. Proximity to a major metro center. And this observation: "Once a place becomes the cool pace to be, hipsters don't want to be there anymore." (Examples: Plaza Midwood and NoDa.)

Kevin Sutton, architect, who volunteers with NoDa's neighborhood group: "We still have a little bit of grit." But the neighborhood has to keep trying to keep its gritty edge, he said. Being near uptown is an advantage, although "you hit your wall when you run out of vacant buildings." And, he said, it's not all about physical form. It's also about attitude, about finding your soul.

Daune Gardener, Waxhaw's mayor, spoke about that Union County town's effort to reinvest in its downtown and to move beyond the more recent, suburban-style development patterns. (See "Waxhaw looks to future with N.C. 16 plan.")

Chatelaine, a subdivision between Weddington and Waxhaw, and clearly not "hipsturbia." Photo: Nancy Pierce
 Can a place that's a 45-minute drive from the city - with no transit service - ever be hipsturbia, even if it has a sweet, historic downtown? The audience didn't take a vote, but doubts were expressed. Davidson and Gaston County's Belmont were also mentioned as places with authentic downtowns but lacking the grittiness and diversity that seem to attract modern-day hipsters.

One audience member noted a map (produced by Locu) tracking hipster neighborhoods by sales of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. I mention it here simply because it's interesting. He recalled that NoDa used to have "a theater behind the collapsed building down in the spot that collected water. ... It was kind of icky. But it survived and thrived and gave the neighborhood a sense of something." Hipster areas aren't really places you can create zoning for, he said.

So, if vacant buildings and grittiness are essential for attracting hipsters, this question from Maddy Baer closed the evening: Why isn't the whole east side hipsturbia by now?