How Hipster Urbanism Is Transforming Cities

Today, down-at-heel neighborhoods are transforming into cutting-edge, trendy districts in cities across the world. Some say this urban transformation is due to the influx of “hipsters” with a real passion for food and an eye for design.

L’Inconnu Paris

Urban cheesemongers and mustachioed greengrocers, with their organic fruit and vegetable smoothies, are making creative waves in Strasbourg Saint-Denis, a neighborhood in the second arrondissement of Paris. This area — now filled with organic shops, hipster cafes and expensive wine cellars — was once known as one of the red light districts of the French capital.

Young Parisian entrepreneurs are transforming the neighborhood’s vibe by setting up stylish bars and rowdy restaurants that serve seriously good food. However, many Parisians would frown upon the opening of another hipster cafe in the district, worrying that the whole city is now binging on its “coolness.” People fear that the city may lose its quirkiness as outlets run by hipsters “out-hip” other shops.

In 2010, Mark Greif of the New York Times published an article “The Hipster in the Mirror,” offering interesting insights into the term “hipster.” Greif defines a contemporary hipster as someone who follows or settles new trends or styles of the time. In his view, there is not a “fixed” set of characteristics that define a hipster. Cities are becoming places where young people — hipsters of different origins and social class — struggle against each other to redefine the notion of “good taste.”

Taste is a superficial subject. It is known as the ability to judge what is beautiful, proper and good. How we appreciate things such as design, art, music or food is largely dependent on different societal groups. If you are inspired and creative, it seems almost too easy to end up like a hipster today — yet almost everyone rejects the idea of being one. However, these are the people who are also stakeholders of the city’s economy, who put time and effort into building a strong relationship with their neighborhoods. Why can’t we see them as inspiring professionals rather than amateurs? It is true that hipsters are often targeted with mockery. Many complain that these new and very young people are not just inauthentic but also unfit for the neighborhoods they frequent. “The older, the more authentic” — is this argument plausible in the times we live in? We may assume that the owners of these hipster places are not seeking out enough guidance from locals.

However, these people are the ones who actually start businesses, who are willing to transform communities and, more importantly, are more likely to become the long-term residents and investors in their local neighborhoods, raising families and buying from other local businesses. Instead of asking what cities can do for them, young entrepreneurs are doing things for cities. They are crafting new street scenes, inviting everyone to the once-avoided corners of the Parisian city. In Strasbourg Saint-Denis, shops that used to sell adult products are now selling fresh mozzarella balls and cashew nuts.

“Strasbourg Saint-Denis has changed tremendously over the past decade.” says Mael Primet, a 29-year-old entrepreneur who has been a resident of Strasbourg Saint-Denis for the last five years. “For better or for worse, the streets smell of organic fruits and fine cheeses from groceries, and wine racks are full of pricey bottles. A few years ago the only racks you would see here were somewhat more ostentatious. They are all replaced by zucchinis.”

With or without realizing, almost every city-dweller, including myself, are making hundreds of hipster choices every day: from buying organic fruit and vegetables to having brunch at cafes filled with colorful organic fruit jams and exotic spices.

Hipsters continue to reinvent themselves and their neighborhoods for the better. These are the people who are remaking and reviving the streets of Strasbourg Saint-Denis, and other formerly down-at-heel neighborhoods of Paris and other big cities. It is not to suggest that every hipster is contributing something good to the society, but there are many who are creating business opportunities in their cities, and providing better city experiences for the people who live in them.

Today’s cities are changing rapidly — and we are outgrowing old terms, definitions and viewpoints over how neighborhoods could and should evolve. Bourgeois fruit trucks park outside a fast food chain in a tiny street of Paris, but no one notices anything weird about this scene. True, not everyone is welcoming this hipster change to the neighborhood, but it is hard to deny that we are slowly syncing into this hipster world.

This post was originally published in The Huffington Post.