Monday, March 28, 2011

Rant: Philadelphia and Generation X+

( #phillymag, #GenX )

Image Credit: Manuel Brauer

Last month, Philadelphia Magazine published a cover story demanding baby boomers to roll over and die so Generation X and the Millennials can finally take over. I was amused by the balls the magazine had to put that on the cover, until I actually read the article. It is fair to say that the cover was designed to make boomers angry because... they are probably not the target demographic of the magazine. I am on the border between Gen X and Millennials and this article managed to get my face red: my generation (whatever the hell I fall into) come across as spoiled brats.

Writer Janine White begins the article by talking about how she is on a roof deck in South Philadelphia for a New Years Eve party like it was the most impossible circumstance ever. She paints South Philadelphia as a wasteland that nobody wanted to live in before the hipsters arrived and made South Philly “cool”. She of course forgets South Philadelphia’s long tradition of community gatherings, block parties (see: Mummers Day Parade), and reputation as a family oriented section of the city. White immediately highlights my problem with her suggested youth movement: the people clamoring for it are self-centered assholes.

She then solidifies the connection to Philadelphia by stating younger professionals are moving from the suburbs into the city. I find this statement frustrating. The article echos a vibe I have been picking up in the blogging community: these people moved here as adults (or college students) and are enjoying the benefits of urban living—but they will not stay. I grew up in Philadelphia, I know the issues with schooling and the general issues of raising a family in the city. It is not impossible by any means, but I don’t think these young professionals have the stomach for it:
  • Because people are moving back, home prices are rising again, but paying 300k for a 1000 square foot row home with two kids doesn’t make much sense in Philadelphia
  • I really want to see a hipster soccer mom try to double park her mini-van on 13th St
  • How far will their love affair with the city go when their kid gets mugged by older kids on the walk to school... everyday
  • Sure taxes are cheap, but that private school tuition is pretty damn expensive
  • Want to get that cool roof deck? Good luck dealing with a South Philly contractor. They will start in the summer and you are lucky if they finish the following spring (I am exaggerating, sort of)

White continues her attack on boomers by listing all of the ills they released on society (corrupted do-nothing governments and divorces that turned Gen X into latchkey kids). She proudly claims Gen X doesn’t want to change the world, they just want to make it a nice place to live. She again highlights the fundamental problem with this generation: they don’t have the passion for a fight, even when it is the right thing to do. Lets take a look at the mortgage meltdown over the last few years. People blame old men in business suits for creating the situation, but who were the people sitting on the sales floors—making the predatory calls, telling people to re-fi, and selling mortgages to people who could not afford it? It wasn’t the boomers. Gen X and the first millennial got their hands dirty and nobody was complaining when the commission checks were coming in. I am not knocking anyone (or it is a knock on everyone). The moral compass of the youth movement can get just as fucked up in the gravitational pull of money—so don't throw stones in glass houses.

Working around the system and creating alternate paths will only go so far; eventually you get high enough that an issues must be dealt with head on. It is in these situation Gen X/Y gets discouraged and goes home (and complains to their helicopter parents so they can make it all better). I had to write a paper three months ago about managing multi-generational teams: all of the research about Gen X/Y/Millennials points out that our generation does not communicate or negotiate well.

I don’t think you can solve the world’s problems in 140 characters or less. If the youth generation (me included) want a place at the big boys table, we need to admit that there is a whole bunch of shit that we do not know how to do well, figure out how to address that gap, and progress. We have to take on our parents issues and our own because we need to be strong enough to not only carry the burden, but to eliminate it for future generations, then we can pat ourselves on the back.