Sarah Kendzior’s latest article for Al Jazeera English dovetails perfectly with the launch of Transition Economics 2014, and explains why so many rebels are now found outside of the large, expensive cities known for “creativity.”
Creativity – as an expression of originality, experimentation, innovation – is not a viable product. It has been priced out into irrelevance – both by the professionalisation of the industries that claim it, and the soaring cost of entry to those professions.
The “creative class” is a frozen archetype – one that does not boost the economy of global cities, as urban studies theorist Richard Florida argues, but is a product of their takeover by elites. The creative class plays by the rules of the rich, because those are the only rules left. Adaptation is a form of survival. But adaptation is a form of abandonment as well.
I can tell you from personal experience, you can afford to be a rebel with much greater ease without the expense of a huge neoliberal city breathing down your neck each month. You can start your own business, buck the conventional wisdom, open a restaurant or do just about anything when you do not need to keep an absurd level of cash flowing every single second.
I do not always like St Louis, where I now reside. It’s hotter than hell in the summers. Many of the locals are insular, persisting in asking where you went to high school. Nothing cosmopolitan is a short drive away. The income inequality is similar to Brazil. But since everything in life is a tradeoff, what are the upsides?
Principally, my wife wanted to return to her hometown to be closer to family while we had children, but we both wanted to escape the crushing cost of living in Washington DC. After the bubble burst in 2008, we learned quickly that so much of the economy was to be run from a central point in Washington that costs were going to get, inexplicably, even more punishing. By way of context: My wife is a physician and I do my thing; we have resources. We wanted a house in a prosperous neighborhood, to send our kids to a high-quality daycare and eventually to have access to good public schools. So we did the math to compare the two cities.
Cost of living in Washington DC
Private schools, which would be required in most parts of DC if one is to avoid the tragedy of the public school system, cost around $30,000 per child per year. If you want to go to school with Sasha and Malia, it’s more like $40,000 per year. (Note: If this makes it sound like Washington is actually two separate cities, good. You get the picture.)
Here is a free-standing home outside of DC with access to Bethesda, Maryland public schools. They are selling it for $769,000. To get into it, you need to come to the table with around $125,000 in cash, and even then your monthly payment would be in the ballpark of $3600 a month. This was one of the cheapest listings in the neighborhood; most of the other listings were between $1.5 and $2.25 million.
Between houses, cars, taxes, food, general expenses and a bit left over for savings, you’re looking at hundreds of thousands a year, every year, without fail, forever.
Cost of living in St Louis
In St Louis, you can get situated in a nice house in a nice neighborhood for around $300,000 with access to good public schools. The other costs here are minimal. Parking is $1 an hour. Taxes are reasonable. Utilities are negligable. Traffic is light. Cars last a long time in the climate. Food is fantastic and very inexpensive by comparison, even in great restaurants. A $20 bar tab in St Louis is enough to make you too drunk to drive home, as opposed to the cost of one cocktail plus tax and tip.
I can’t drive to the French Embassy. If I want to lobby Congress, I have to get on a plane. I can’t hang out with diplomats all day long. That kind of thing is only possible in DC – and I miss it terribly.
But I can do almost anything else. And once in a while, I can afford to do nothing and go to the free art museum with my kids for the day, just because I feel like it. And that’s priceless.