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Thread: Planners and culture shock

  1. #1

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    The Trades-To Counter Dan's Snobbery :)

    I thought this article was quite interesting. As I sit here and rewrite yet another set of "design guidelines" while worrying about the cost of some major home repairs, this hits home.http://www.newcolonist.com/carpenters.html

  2. #2
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Head to Buffalo, and you'll find that those who practice the mechanical trades get a lot of respect. Then again, you're looking at a working city with strong unions, where the men and women who work in skilled mechanical trades are highly educated and well paid ... solidly middle class, if not better off. Buffalo's secondary educational system, to this day, places a great deal of effort on vocational education -- there's four vocational high schools.

    In Buffalo, the carpenters and plumbers didn't end up there as a last resort. Get a house built, and everyone on the jobsite will be skilled union tradespeople, many of whom have worked with one contractor for years. Homes are built right, by people who have been doing it with pride for years. Off the jobsite, most plumbers or sheet metal workers will usually blend right in with the rest of the folks in the neighborhood. They eat out in nice restaurants, send their kids to college, watch PBS and play golf. There are certain blue-collar overtones that are integral to Buffalo culture as a whole -- the whole bingo-bowling-fire hall-Bills thing -- but there's little, if any "construction subculture" up there. I will say that a disproportionately large percentage of those in the building trades are Italian-American, a demographic trait that dates back to when immigrants from Sicily first settled down in Buffalo's West Side.

    I'll admit to some class snobbery, though ... after I moved to Florida. It's wrong ... I learned a lot from reading "The Redneck Manifesto" by Jim Goad. Highly recommended -- it's a wonderfully wordsmithed, very well researched work. I shouldn't look down upon folks who toil in the Florida humidity to roof houses, lay sod, or put up drywall. It's damn hard work, manly work, work that I respect. However, there's a very alien, very different blue collar subculture down here ... one that, considering my Northern middle class upbringing, seems forceably lowbrow. Unlike Buffalo, Cleveland or Detroit, there's little crossover between Southern blue collar culture and ... well, everything else.

    Yeah, there's the old-time skilled tradespeople like back home. Many are working at Disney and Universal. There's a few who work for themselves. Most of the rest, though ... construction workers are more often than not day laborers. The vast majority of folks I encounter has a rural Southern cultural orientation. There's a very distinct "construction subculture," which seems to embrace many, if not all of the stereotypical elements of redneckery. Here, if you're a heavy equipment operator or irrigation installer, you MUST beatify Dale Earnhardt, you MUST own a monster pickup with dualies and a room-sized job box that shines like silver, you MUST wear that black t-shirt picturing an airbrushed Indian or a wolf, you MUST carry that bleeping black plastic brick (affectionately called the "West Orange County passport") everywhere you go.

    A while ago, I had my water heater replaced. The plumber was an Italian-American with a Noo Yawk accent. I felt relieved, because ... well, that old stereotype of the skilled Northeastern union guy came to mind. Bfore I could say "How 'bout them Yankees?", the heater was in ... bada bing! It was a good, clean, no-nonsense install. I asked him why he worked down here, instead of "back in the City," where the salaries were higher. His response ... "There's a lot of people who are in the trades here, but there are few that are any good. If you know your stuff, you'll clean up! Besides, you can eget to more jobs than in the City, and make just as much money."

    I confess my sins. I'm a staunch supporter of New Urbanism and voluntary simplicity who lives alone in a big-ass house at the end of a cul-de-sac in a textbook late 1980s suburban subdivision, a self-proclaimed environmentalist who drives alone and doesn't recycle half of the things he should, and a salt-of-the-earth, open-minded guy who admits to practicing some of the class snobbery that I would otherwise despise.

    If it makes it better, heads turn and faces scowl whenever I enter any restaurant for lunch in "the town next door," because all of the Direct Connect beepin' mulletheads are thinking "damn yuppie." Tonight, I worked a but late. I was having a bad skin day, so after work I headed to Wal-Mart to stock up on things like collodial oatmeal, bath salts, hydrocortisone cream, and the like. I also bought a plant for the garden. Almost all of the store's shoppers had something of a hard mountain look, and the conversations of other shoppers had a rough, cigarette-hardened, southern Georgia-influenced twang. I heard a lot of Direct Connect beeping throughout the store. I got a lot of strange looks at my fem-cart, and a few angry stares. The vibes were telling me "You're on OUR turf, and we don't like your kind. Target is three miles that-a-way.. BRR-EEP! Waitaminit ... Ahhhh, Buck, was the g'damn County going to do the g'damn rough-in plumbing inspection tomorrow? BRR-EEP! "

    The collective hostility from the rednecks doesn't justify my apparent elitism. However, there seems to be this sort of vibe down here, in the part of the Orlando metro where I live, where a culturally Southern, working class enclave is facing encroachment by what's essentially a culturally Northern Orlando. I'm one of the damn Yankees that transformed Ocoee from a hick town and Klan outpost with a black population of zero, to an increasingly desirable address for professional families of all ethnicities.

    The citrus families in clay-road Oakland are fading away, replaced mostly by "creative class" couples (both straight and gay), and some others who have "made it." Building custom homes in one infill subdivision this week -- a Mexican-American contractor and his wife, who has been attending a lot of P&Z workshops (I lend him books from my planning library), an architect, a retiree couple, a young couple who both work as successful building contractors, and an ex-professional football player and his wife.

    Winter Garden is still working man central, but most of the new houses south of the Turnpike in the city limits are selling for $200K or more. Those new residents don't like the image of the town, and the lack of respect with their Zip Code ... they're supporting the city in improving the aesthetics of the main drag, now a row of diesel mechanics, body shops and heavy equipment rental yards. The city leaders are seeing the light, and the good 'ol boys are scared. "They're using these regulations for signs and landscaping and architecture to put us out of business, so thet can get an Olive Garden for the rich folks in Stonybrook."

    The equivalent "up north" might be the "vibes" a new African-American resident might feel in a neighborhood that is experiencing gradual but imminent racial transition. I'm one of the newcomers, the invaders, a thing that represents a sign of change.

    Okay, I turned this into a rant on class conflict. Dan shoots off on a tangent again. Sorry.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  3. #3
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    IF you knew then what you know now...

    Dan,
    Your rant raises questions for me about career moves and location decisions.
    You've moved to some diverse areas of the country in search of meaningful and challenging work. What were your criteria? Did you just look at the level of responsibility or were you interested in the geographic area? Could you have anticipated what kind of vibe you'd get in FL or NM? Would it have made a difference? You've also maintained a deep appreciation for your roots. Is it difficult trying to accept a new town on it's own terms?
    I've settled on a few areas of the country I think I wouldn't mind relocating to, but haven't had the opportunity to spend much time there. I can't imagine the experience of uprooting myself only to find the work is OK but I'm uncomfortable in my new home town. Many of the other people posting here have made some big moves across the continent for job & family reasons. Is it always an adventure worth having? I enjoy travel and visiting new places, but that's different. I can always leave if it's not to my liking. What are the pros and cons of staying close to your roots vs relocating?

  4. #4

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    Very interesting reply, Dan. I guess what caught my eye about the article was the fact that as a long range/policy planner, I find my work can be so abstract that the idea of actual physical accomplishment is appealing. Plus, living in California where everything is abstract, and "manufacturing" consists of writing code on a CD or a chip, real accomplishment seems pretty appealing. But, as a confirmed bookwork/poli-sci/English nerd, I certainly have no illusions I would be a good contractor/carpenter/plumber. No skills, no talent, and no patience

    As for moving across country, California really appealed to me after growing up in the midwest and going to school in Virginia. I was a bit tired of the south (although Knoxville, TN is actually fairly diverse). Although Knoxville has done some neat things from an urban design/planning perspective, I don't really look back. And, unlike Dan, I have no emotional desire to live in my hometown (Fort Wayne, Indiana) at all. Blah! A snobby suburban high school full of preppies and "the daughter of the mayor's attorney" does not make me, a working class nerd, warm and fuzzy about my high school days! And, midwestern cities have some of the most truly awful strips ever seen on the face of the earth. Coliseum Blvd actually inspired me to go into planning: ten lanes of truck traffic, high tension power lines overhead, no sign regulations at all, a lovely 1950s shopping mall combined with all the glories of modern strip commercial, and a decaying industrial district at one end. Combine that with the lovely midwestern climate, and I'll stay out here. I already bought my townhouse, so the recent runup in prices isn't even an issue for me personally

  5. #5
    Cyburbian nerudite's avatar
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    Interesting thread...

    BKM... Thanks for posting this article. I have always had a healthy respect for skilled tradesmen, because I find it very appealing that someone would pick a craft and stick with it and truly become a master at it. The disparity in class consciousness has been so great in the various places I've worked and lived... for example, I think Edmonton has a healthy respect for its industrial base and skilled workers are coveted. After living here the past six months,

    The oil industry drives this town, and the money to be made in some of the specialties is quite decent. The awesome skilled labor in the industrial base (warehousing, oil industry, etc) unfortunately is not mirroed in the construction industry. The growth rate has been so rapid that the construction industry has not been able to keep up. Subdivisions are sold out on pre-sells before the subdivision plats are even registered with Land Titles. "Skill" and construction are used tongue in cheek here in the same sentence, akin to military intelligence.

    As an example, a woman who lived just outside the city limits kept calling this winter (when it was 30 below) to say that her house would not warm up despite the fact that she was cranking the heat and was living in a house built last summer. As it turns out, the sheet rock guy got there before the insulation guy and didn't think to wait before the insulation was installed. Unfortunately, the woman was nearly frozen in her house before anyone could figure it out!

    As for your other question regarding people that move around a lot... I think it's really worth it. Especially if you get to travel quite a bit first to find what areas naturally suit you. I'm from California and I knew I didn't want to stay there... I took a trip up to the Pacific NW and fell in love with the San Juans. So I stayed for awhile. I traveled down to Portland and then stayed a while. Some people just have the wanderlust (often geography majors ) ... and I'm just happy that I work in a profession that is so accommodating to my lifestyle.

  6. #6

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    Moving

    I think I'm stuck in one place now A little bit of the Golden Handcuffs, (God PERS is great!) And a little bit that I really like northern California, despite all of its problems.

    I used to look at the jobs on the SF Penninsula and central Bay Area. The reality is that housing is so expensive in the central Bay Area, central Seattle, and even Portland that I'm not sure I could afford to live anywhere else. Oregon (and even Washington) planner salaries suck, over all. Portland is not half as expensive as Solano County! So, I am a mercenary, I guess. And New England, another place I would like, is even worse.

    Plus, the physical labor associated with moving (packing, moving furniture down my incredibly narrow stairs, the cleanup) is one of my least favorite activities!

  7. #7
    Cyburbian nerudite's avatar
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    Are you in Solano? What part?

    I went to UCD and worked for the City of Davis for several years. My sister lives in Antioch, although we try to spend as little time as possible there when I'm visiting... too much other cool stuff to see.

    I used to drive between Davis and St. Helena every day during this one summer that I interned with St. Helena Parks. I miss the hills! And... I miss seeing hot-air balloons. It was cool... I could always tell the weather in Napa by looking out my front door in Davis. If I saw hot-air balloons over my house, I knew it was foggy in St. Helena and I should take a sweater. It's that kind of stuff that is hard to leave.

    And I understand about your qualms with the actual moving of items. I don't recommend moving internationally... the customs forms are killer!

    Oh yeah... and CalPERS is awesome! Oregon's I hear is even better. But since I never worked in that system, I can't substantiate it. WA PERS isn't worth it. Although, if you want to move to the Portland area, you can always try Vancouver. I lived near downtown Vancouver in awesome 1920s house with a full basement for only $875 a month. And there's no State income tax with no sales tax right across the river. Can't beat that system

  8. #8

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    Nerudite:

    You are a braver soul than I (Edmonton). I doubt I could even handle an Indiana winter anymore (I'm a Hoosier originally-a little bit of the same blue collar industrial heritage, with a strong overlay of "regional commercial center/engineers" white collar culture-talk about class divisions )

    I live in Vacaville, 20 minutes from Davis. My employer is Fairfield, the next town in. A very progressive employer, and I have no complaints at all about that side of the coin. The suburban NIMBYism and conservatism of the residents-that's another story, but. . .

    I really like Northern California a lot. I have to admit wondering how the state will absorb another 25 million people without descending into Third World-style overcrowding, because I don't see the long term fiscal problems being solved.

    As for Oregon, its hard to justify a move when many of the Planner salaries I see advertised top out in the low 40s. Not that good. And, I was shocked at how expensive central Seattle was. $450,000 for a crummy little wooden bungalow in a neighborhood described as "hip" that I found rather charmless and treeless (Queen Anne Hill) I have to admit I found Seattle as a whole rather disappointing.

    Housing is not THAT expensive in Solano County, and I already bought my townhouse before the latest run-up. Would I like a big yard for my dogs-probably. But it ain't gonna happen.

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