Monday, May 06, 2013

Having Plenty of Green

We've been considering markers of social class this year, focusing on language, dress, and location. Here's a new site my wife passed on to me that thinks about trees and social class. Yes, trees!  

One of the first pairs of photos shows Hyde Park, a wealthy area on the south side of Chicago (remember our field trip?!) and under it a very poor neighborhood to the immediate south, Woodlawn. The photos are staggeringly different, aren't they?  

Here's my own pairing: Kelvyn Park (in Chicago) followed by Winnetka:  






I chose this pairing since our school is in Winnetka and our Social Service Board has partnered with Kelvyn Park. Even a color blind guy like me can see that the difference is all in GREEN (money, trees, green lights!).

It turns out the pattern seems pretty universal: "Old Money" areas -- think East Egg or the North Shore -- are loaded with incredibly mature trees that have stood for 100 years or more; whereas, less affluent areas have little to no forestation. This is not to suggest that you can't find a poor stretch of Appalachian forest in Kentucky, for example... only that trees in any area seem to offer a key clue of relative wealth.    

Though the photos on the site (above) are aerial views, it seems likely that you can infer the wealth of a town or  even a neighborhood within Chicago, say, by counting trees.  Saplings are relatively inexpensive but slow growing.  Mature trees are extremely expensive to plant.  Yet, trees not only connote wealth, but they also provide shade, invisibility, and privacy, a particularly important commodity among American aristocrats.   

Neighbors near where I live just planted a perimeter of 90 trees around their property. When Michael Jordan bought his new Palm Beach home, as he did with his $28 million dollar Highland Park home -- he immediately landscaped with "a literal forest of trees," offering "little or no glimpse of his mammoth 28,000-square-foot home, together with 3 separate structures; a guard house, guest house and pool house." Why is this? Why does American wealth manifest itself in withdrawal from the larger population? Why is it so rooted in exclusivity? (Think: Charles Foster Kane -- "NO TRESSPASSING!") To what extent should trees be considered a public resource?  

What other markers of social class are you aware of?  

20 comments:

Ellen Lyman said...

I think that another marker of social class is how people speak and communicate with others. Usually people of a higher social class have a higher level of education, and therefore are more likely to use more sophisticated language and grammar. Also I think that people of a higher social class tend to use less slang when they speak.

Aj Watkins said...

This may be a stretch but I think that the modes of transportation people use is an indicator of social class. I'm not just talking about driving a new, 2013 car versus driving a beat-up, battered 1993 model. I am talking more about trains and train stations. The train station in Kenilworth is clean and quaint - it is made out of white bricks and has a clean inside. And when you get off at the Kenilworth stop, you see large houses, well-paved roads, and some well-dressed people walking around. However, if you get off at the Lasalle Street Station in Chicago, you are bombarded by businesses and buildings tightly packed together, with tons people walking around. The stations and the area surrounding the stations are much different - and it is easy to tell which area is wealthier based on their train station.

Zach Peltz said...
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Nicole Popowski said...

AJ mentioned how you can see well-paved roads from the Kenilworth stop, but I believe that the quality of the roads in the North Shore as a whole is better than other areas. For example, Green Bay Road, which runs through Wilmette, Kenilworth, Winnetka, and Glencoe is a very well-kept road. Driving home this afternoon, I noticed that there were no potholes or large cracks in the pavement. Not to mention, if there was ever a need to repair it, it would be done immediately. And although road repair causes terrible traffic (as there is on the corner of Winnetka Ave and Greenbay right now) the quality of the street is worth it.

In contrast, as I sometimes drive past Wilmette on Greenbay and into Evanston, the quality of the road becomes noticeably worse. There are more bumps and cracks, which haven't been repaired in years. This is just another social marker that I have noticed.

Lily Stein said...

I think that another marker of social class is the type of pets that people have. For example, while people in both lower class and upper class areas may have dogs, the kinds seen in each place are different. In a lower class area, you are more likely to see mutts that may not be well groomed or well fed. These people in lower class areas are struggling to put food on the table for themselves, so it must be difficult to give their pets the kind of care that people in the upper class are able to give theirs. In places like the North Shore, you often see more pure bred dogs (which are much more expensive) that look clean and groomed with fancy collars. It is an expensive luxury to have a well cared for animal and a clear marker of social class.

alex wolkoff said...

One social marker that I have become aware of is churches. Recently, when I drove through the south of Chicago I noticed an inordinate amount of churches. It seemed like there was a church on every block! However, coming home from the city and driving through the North Shore, I quickly noticed the sharp decrease in amount of churches. There was basically two or three churches per town within the north shore. I am very curious to why this is? I believe it has some correlation with the fact that those of the poorer class find most of their comfort in religion and being able to seek help through praying.

Sarah Henzlik said...

I think trees serve as a consistent marker for social class, but I think another good indicator is the geographical vicinity to bodies of water. On the North Shore, 'lakefront' property is often very expensive to come by, and provides a monetary barrier for the average home buyer. This creates a sort of 'gated community' in a sense because for the most part only the upper, upper class can afford to dwell there. This trend can be repeated on the American oceanic shores on the coasts as well.

I think trees should be considered a public resource because everyone can benefit from them. I also agree with Lily's point about how the type of pet can be considered a status symbol.

Colin M said...
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Colin M said...

Returning to AJ's point about cars, I think that the most defining marker of social class is where individuals in that community are able to spend their money.I actually read an interesting article in Slate Magazine, "A Map of Whole Foods vs. Walmart in the Bay Area", that spoke to this with the location of these two grocery stores on Google Maps. The West side was populated by Whole Foods, and the East by Walmart. The West Side's ability to afford the much healthier, but much more expensive food from Whole Foods is a clear indicator of class for me. This is because Whole Foods provides more than necessities for survival,it is an opportunity for luxury - it shows that the people there have money to spend on what they want, not just what they need.

Here's the link since I don't know how to embed it.
http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2013/03/11/map_whole_foods_vs_walmart_in_the_bay_area.html

Heidi Blumenthal said...

If you want determine the social class of a neighborhood, go there at night. One clear and consistent marker of social class is the amount of light at night. If you drive or walk in Kelvyn Park at night you will notice that the streets are perfectly lit since there is a light about every 50 feet. But if you come up to the North Shore, the streets are dark. This difference in dark and light is not an accident. In the city, where there is a higher crime rate, city streets need to be lit at night since they are more dangerous, while the North Shore is a more affluent and safer neighborhood so it can be darker. Lit up neighborhoods at night tend to be the poorer and more dangerous communities.

Lily Schroeder said...

Similar to Colin’s on food and grocery stores, I think another social marker can be seen in personal physique. It used to be inferred that the fatter you were, the richer you were because you had access to more food. But, the tables have turned quite a bit. Now, wealthier people focus more on healthy eating and exercise whereas people with lesser means may not be able to focus as much on their health as on their jobs and families.

Sports can also be indicative of social markers. The so-called country-club sports like tennis and golf attract those who can afford the equipment, court-time/tee-time; whereas sports like soccer only require a ball and an open area to play.

Alexis B said...

I would like to take what Lily said about physical physique a little further and say that a good indicator of social class is a person's or community's consumption of processed/fast food. Processed food is much cheaper than organic produce, and therefore poorer people would rather feed their family that way because they can usually get a better bang for their buck.

Because fast food now has this stigma of being lower class food, wealthier communities try to hide their fast food restaurants from the public eye to avoid being associated with the lower class. For example, as we discussed in class, the McDonald's on Green Bay in Winnetka is barely visible because the sign is tiny and the store front doesn't even face the road. On the other hand, the Whole Foods in Northbrook has its store name in giant GREEN (money, nature, etc) letters next to a fancy fountain.

Hannah Waldman said...

I think that another marker for social class is what you wear on your clothes. For example, I have noticed that, on the north shore, most people don't wear shirts with "Gap" or "Abercrombie" written across the front of them. However, when I traveled to Disney World for a field hockey tournament, I noticed that many residents in the lower to middle class Orlando area wore shirts with brand names across the front. I'm not sure why this would be, maybe clothes with name brands across the front are less expensive, and maybe the upper classes like the subtlety of a blank shirt.

Hannah DePorter said...

Although I agree that trees are a good idicator of wealth, it is hard to compare the north shore and kelvin park because kelvin park is a much more urban area than the northshore. In the suburbs everything is spread out ,leaving a lot of room for trees and lanscaping, but in urban areas everything is very close together, so leaving valuable space for trees doesn't make sense. I think a better comparison is Hyde Park and Woodlawn because they are both southside chicago. Hyde park has an overwhelming amount of trees compared to Woodlawn, making that more compelling evidence because Hyde park is very wealthy, while Woodlawn is poor.

tally ford said...

I agree with AJ when he says that the modes of transportation people use ,like train stations, is an indicator of social class. However, I somewhat disagree with Nicole when she says that the quality of roads is an indicator of social class. I disagree because almost everyday, I drive west on Winnetka avenue and always encounter potholes and large cracks in the road, especially after winter. The quality of roads is often based on where you live and harsh weather and seasonal changes. In places where there are cold winters, like Chicago, the water in the ground freezes and thaws during the winter, which makes the ground expand and contract, therefore form in potholes. This makes potholes a lot more prevalent in Chicago than a place like California or Florida. However, looking back to when Mr. Bolos showed our class unincorporated DuPage County and his neighborhood compared to the neighborhood down the street, I can see how Nicole says that the quality of roads is an indicator of social class because of the way the street is actually paved, but I believe that it is not the greatest indicator of class.

Clark Kipp said...

I think people like to create barriers with other classes because it elevates their status. America has developed under the principles of capitalism, where one seeks to accumulate personal wealth and value. We have seen this through Charles Foster Kane, Jay Gatsby, and observations about communities like this post by Doc O'C.

I saw a sign recently outside the famous "Home Alone House," which is just a couple of doors down from my house. It reads something along the lines of "No Trespassing. This is private property." This may be an outlier because of the numerous tourists who like to take pictures and observe the house, but it made me think about social class barriers and exclusivity in America.

I think signs like this in wealthy areas can be seen as a social barrier. It is trying to keep people out of the "illustrious" community of Winnetka and the North Shore.

Noah Quinn said...

Recently, we discussed the interpretation of social class and landscape. One marker as noted by Doc OC was the "Adirondack chair." I'm quite familiar with them as the camp I went in Maine for countless where the chairs were abundant all up the lush green hills of Camp Cedar. For those who are unfamiliar with the Adirondack chair Wikipedia describes it as, "a simple rustic wooden chair for outdoor use. In the original design it was made with 11 flat wooden boards, with a straight back and seat. It also features wide armrests."

It is also said to be the perfect "leisure" chair, becoming increasingly popular at parks, caf├ęs, etc. The chair itself is a marker of social class. Where you find well kept grass in a beautiful park or large green area, you may find yourself a fleet of Adirondacks to relax in. It would be shocking to find people lounging in Adirondack chairs in urban areas. Even World Market, a high end specialty import store, notes the elegance of these lounge chairs. Under the chair reads a tag entitled, "Why We Love It" where World Market provides the description of the chair: "A signature silhouette of outdoor living, our Antique-White Classic Adirondack Chair's wide, slanted seat invites endless relaxation. Built for comfort, this chair provides a timeless look ideal for bringing classic design sensibility to your favorite outdoor hangout." I just wrote a post elaborating on this. Please take a look and feel free to comment your thoughts. Thanks!

http://noahquinn95.blogspot.com/2013/05/adirondack-chairs-and-class.html

Olivia James said...

I think Hannah W. brought up an interesting point. Specific types of clothes people wear as a sign of social class can be overlooked, but I think that is very telling. Once we graduated from junior high, I've barely seen anyone wear clothes with obvious brand names such as Hollister or Abercrombie. You would think it would be the other way around in wealthy areas since these labels are expensive. However, it is true that when I am in more diverse areas, I see many more people wearing these types of clothes. I think it is because here, there is a greater emphasis on "higher" fashion. When we were kids, it was cool to wear Juicy Couture sweatsuits or Hollister shirts, but now they're considered "tacky." The fashion sense at New Trier to me seems more subtle or sophisticated. It seems that people here wear clothes similar to what you would see in fashion magazines, and are very aware of new trends. This may not be the case in lower class areas because most people may not have the time or money to invest themselves in the fashion world. Because of this, they may stick with the Abercrombie labels because that's what was "cool" for a long time, even though since then it's fallen out of favor with teens more connected to the current trends.

Maxx Klein said...

After finishing the "Social Class Station" video, Mr. Bolos's documentary opened my eyes to the use of natural boundaries- such as woods and streams- to separate communities. I was astounded to see the use of a river and a forest to separate the two, drastically different towns of Maywood and River Forest. I believe this is a direct example of towns using these "natural barriers" to break apart communities with people of different affluence. River Forest has a significant portion of its population in the "high class" with an average income of $107,000, while Maywood consist of a majority of its population with a median income of $48,000. These barriers serve as a protection to these wealthy communities who want to segregate out the other classes. It seems that wealthy people want to be living and with other wealthy people and be detached from less wealthy citizens.

Kim Cole said...

This reminds me of a screenshot of Google Earth showing the locations of Whole Foods to Wal Marts. http://imgur.com/OGDWGbN In this picture, the area South of the bay is implied to be more affluent than the Wal Mart area North of it. I think that this image, like the images of how green areas are, is a very accurate measure of social class. Whole Foods is a lot more expensive than Wal Mart, so why would Whole Foods put stores in areas where no one can afford them? Also, why would Wal Mart put stores in areas where no one would buy from them and instead shop at more expensive grocery stores?