The New York Times tends to write about rural areas in one of two ways — as zoos full of Trump supporters who can never be understood, or as playgrounds for well-off yuppies to go frolic in after they’ve sown their wild oats working as a lawyer for a boutique marketing firm in DUMBO. Either way, these places become exoticized and consumed by yuppies and, as someone who grew up in one of those places, allow me to say that it sucks.
On Friday, the Times did it again, announcing to their readers that enough affluent young people have moved to the wilderness of the Catskill Mountains that it has officially turned into the IRL version of what city people imagine mountain towns look like on Instagram. This is great if you have disposable income and can work from home, but if you do not, then it’s just the latest volley in the class war that is constantly raging on whatever floor of the New York Times building the Real Estate section sits.
Anyway, I used my personal neural network of deep learning to find and rank the most flagrantly dumb examples of this very specific mini-genre of New York Times trend piece in which yuppies movie to the wilderness and make it suck. In order to discover the secrets of the New York Times archives, I had my extremely real computer system create its rankings based on the following terms:
These rankings are purely objective and should not be questioned.
Hudson Valley Division
Headline: “Forget the Suburbs, It’s Country or Bust,” December 14, 2018
Best bad quote: “‘Ninety percent of my clients up here are from Brooklyn,’ said Megan Brenn-White, a real estate agent [...] [who] markets listings and interesting local businesses on an Instagram account with 6,500 followers, many of them potential or recent transplants from the city.”
Basically, the crux of this article — and perhaps the crux of the entire Hudson Valley, now that I think of it — is that New York is too crowded and expensive, but the Hudson Valley is cheap and also on the Amtrak and you probably already know somebody who lives there, so fuck it. Plus, the architecture is pretty cool and if you can afford to rent a fancy place in Brooklyn you could definitely buy an even fancier place there. This piece is without peer, in its ability to be fantastically late to the party — I don’t even live in New York and I already knew that the Hudson Valley is the yuppie Hamptons.
Headline: “New Hudson Valley Homes for a New Kind of Buyer,” June 16, 2017
Best bad quote: “The area has also begun attracting a wealthier clientele, who previously might have vacationed in the Hamptons but are now eager to trade the bustle and traffic of Long Island for the quiet of upstate New York.”
If that previous piece didn’t say the quiet part quite loud enough, rest assured that this one basically only says the loud part.
Headline: “In the Hudson Valley, a New Mecca for Artisans,” November 23, 2016
Best bad quote: “The Mill was opened in 2013 by the Etsy founder.”
Is it offensive to refer to a trendy part of Upstate New York as a “Mecca” given that going to actual Mecca is an integral part of the Muslim faith? Well, the Times couldn’t be bothered to think about that in 2016, because the founder of Etsy has a coworking space in the Catskills for “woodworkers, ceramacists and other artisans.”
Headline: “In Putnam County, a Humble Home for Arts on the Lake,” January 30, 2016
Best bad quote: “Whether or not it qualifies as a trend, the conversion of former firehouses into arts centers has been going on across the country for years.”
Basically, this is a story about some rich people who turned an old Hudson Valley firehouse into a theater that is also a fire hazard. Said rich people have put on plays featuring prominent Broadway actors, chamber music concerts, and writing workshops and also have a budget of $100,000 that they claim is too small. The entire article feels like the set-up for an episode of Frasier in which Frasier and Niles learn a lesson about not buying a dilapidated firehouse just so they can put on a Debussy recital for all their friends.
Post-Industrial Urban Revitalization Division
Headline: “Millennials Are Going to Kansas City, to Live and Work,” August 19, 2014
Best bad quote: “It represents the first high-rise residential development downtown in nearly 40 years, and its 315 units are expected to command rents upward of $1.80 a square foot.”
There’s this weird myth that millennials will live in literally any city as long as they can live in a high-rise apartment complex in the downtown of that city. In this 2014 trend piece about millennials moving to Kansas City (to live and work), the Times glommed onto this fiction, never once wondering whether young people move to places like Kansas City precisely because there aren’t any downtown high-rises that jack up housing costs of every place within a mile radius. The best (read: worst) part of this article is the fact that even as the Times gushed about Kansas City’s rising rents as a sure sign of its looming revitalization, it also noted that “employers, however, remain in short supply [downtown].”
Headline: “A Vibrant Turnaround for a Neglected Charleston Neighborhoood,” August 29, 2017
Best bad quote: “The space BoomTown occupies, all 56,854 square feet of it, was designed in the ‘industrial chic’ style and built for the company from what had been ‘a disaster of a warehouse,’ Ms. Magnesson said. ‘We were the first to sign on here. We’d been in a little old grocery store downtown.’ Other tenants at Pacific Box & Crate — named after previous industrial tenants on the property — include PhishLabs, which helps companies and organizations fight cyberattacks.”
If you’ve ever wanted to read a puff piece about how a couple of independently wealthy real estate developers had a dream to buy up a shitload of empty warehouses in a historic Southern city and turn them into office space for dumb tech companies, you’re in luck, because that’s exactly what this article is. Charleston, South Carolina is both an architecturally stunning city and sort of a gigantic confederate monument, and by trying to convert the place into a Southeastern Silicon Valley, these developers managed to make it suck more for the people who live there already while papering over its problematic past. This is why when in doubt, you should just do nothing.
West Texas Division
Last but not least, allow me (and also the Times) to tell a tale of how yuppies ruined Marfa, Texas.
Headline: “A Moth to Marfa’s Flame,” Feb 29, 2012
Best bad quote: “Mr. Wilsey and Ms. Beal, who are married and live in Brooklyn, had a joint residency in 2000, after which they bought a $3,500 adobe house that was barely standing and filled with sheep.”
This first piece is half a profile of Peter Behrens, a screenwriter-turned-novelist who writes the sort of books that are only read by people in MFA programs, and half an exploration of Marfa, Texas, the tiny west Texas art town that in 2012 was still a weird enclave of creative people who wanted to live near cowboys and pretend to be rustic and/or rugged. They were drawn to its adobe houses, which were both inexpensive (see the above quote) and architecturally bold if you’ve never seen one before. The town was cool, the people were interesting, and everybody had trucks. What could possibly go wrong?
Headline: “In a Texas Art Mecca, Humble Adobe Now Carries a High Cost,” November 27, 2018
Best bad quote: “Required by Texas law to find more revenue, the Presidio county tax assessors realized that adobe homes in Marfa were selling at a premium, and so they raised their appraisal values in 2017, just three years after a townwide revaluation. That has meant two big tax increases, not only for owners of the high-end and expansive adobe homes with backyard pools, xeriscaped gardens and adobe walls to surround them, but also for hundreds of more modest, weather-beaten residences clustered around the south side of Marfa, where historically most of the town’s Hispanic population has lived.”