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Thread: Rootless Relos (NY Times article)

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    Cyburbian ChevyChaseDC's avatar
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    Rootless Relos (NY Times article)

    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/01/na...l?pagewanted=1

    The above link is to an interesting article, part of the NY Times series on class in America. It illustrates the daily lives of a very typical "Relo" family - upper middle class, suburban, conservative, and most of all, rootless. This family's life in Alpharetta, Georgia (far north Atlanta suburb) stands in stark contrast to the 'urbane suburban' existance in, say, Montclair, NJ.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Hceux's avatar
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    Very interesting.

    I wonder just how common "relos" are.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian abrowne's avatar
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    I couldn't see myself doing that. They have ceased to be human and have become no different than a transferable asset - a fallen and milled tree, a chunk of iron ore.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by abrowne
    I couldn't see myself doing that. They have ceased to be human and have become no different than a transferable asset - a fallen and milled tree, a chunk of iron ore.
    Sorry, but as a military wife (and daughter), that sounds mildly offensive to me. Imagine if I said "People who live in the same place all their lives don't sound human to me. They sound like plants." Honestly, I don't understand why anyone would want to spend their entire life in one place. But I don't think that gives me the right to question someone's humanity for doing so.

    I skimmed most of the article. The amount of money they have and the two car lifestyle is alien to me but moving around and the wife volunteering a lot, etc. -- all of that is quite familiar to me. My ties to my blood relatives remained strong for a long time. I used to go home for several weeks with the kids when my husband was gone for a long time. Heck, twice, he was sent for school to where my parents live and I went to visit family in part so I could see him. When we lived in Germany, I got to see relatives of mine I had not seen since I was 2 years old and couldn't remember. My dad was career military and met and married my mom when he was in Germany. My sister and brother were both born there. My husband's father and grandfather were also career military. So he lived in Germany as a kid and his parents and grandparents and siblings, etc. all had stories of living in Germany. And my husband sometimes worked with someone he had known at some previous duty station years before.

    The article doesn't really tell you that side of the gypsy life but I would bet that if the interviewer wanted to know what ties they had -- rather than how they were "different" from more settled people -- you would find that "Well, all our friends go to the same vacation spots" (or whatever) and they do have social ties that last over time. Frankly, because I was the only one who did NOT remember Germany and did NOT remember when my dad was in the military (he retired when I turned 3), marrying a guy going into the army and then living in Germany was the first time I really felt connected to my extended family. I felt rootless my entire childhood -- and I was born and raised in the same town and lived in the same house from age 3 until I married. Living the gypsy life my parents had lived and traveling to some of the same places gave me a sense of connectedness, at long last.

    Just food for thought.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian abrowne's avatar
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    I'm washing my hands of this. You have applied my comment to areas that were clearly not related to the story - areas or aspects I never invoked. As a parting note, my comments were rooted in the why, rather than the what.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by abrowne
    I'm washing my hands of this. You have applied my comment to areas that were clearly not related to the story - areas or aspects I never invoked. As a parting note, my comments were rooted in the why, rather than the what.
    Um, sorry, I don't understand your reaction -- the title of the article and of this thread both include the word "rootless" and most of my comments were about what kinds of "roots" I have had as a person with a mobile lifestyle. How is that "not related"?

    Also, I don't think the article indicates why they do this. My husband is in the military in part because he is very patriotic. You can't know that merely due to his job title. He has had co-workers who joined the military to escape the gang lifestyle. Others have joined the military because it was a means to pay for college. (and the list goes on) So I am curious as to what you think the "why" is when I don't recall seeing that information in the article at all -- which is part of my point: the article promotes dehumanizing stereotypes and intentionally tries to paint a mobile lifestyle as less human. But most folks with incomes like that have cleaning services and, no, they don't usually want any kind of human relationship with the servants. And the "soccer mom" is common enough that I seriously doubt it is limited to folks with a highly mobile lifestyle. Etc.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    This article made me sad. I guess I don't understand why they make the dude move all the time when he's traveling 2-5 times a week anyway. Is it really worth making all that money if you can never settle down?

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    Cyburbian the north omaha star's avatar
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    Sound like my father-in-law when he was working. He just got tired of all of the travelling and uprooting his family all of the time. My wife's family has lived in Shaker Heights twice, PA, northern NJ and finally Michigan.
    I am recognizing that the voice inside my head
    is urging me to be myself but never follow someone else
    Because opinions are like voices we all have a different kind". --Q-Tip

  9. #9

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    My mother still lives in the same house she bought with my father in 1957.

    I agree somewhat with abrowne while understanding Michelle's perspective as well. There. That illuminates the debate, no? .

  10. #10
    I found the article very interesting, but yet it was all foreign to me since I've lived in the same small town in the Northeast for over 20 years.

    If you check out the discussion boards on the Times' website about the article, it looks like the Times did a perfect job getting its message across....that upper class, white, Christian Republicans are bad people...they are the cause of traffic, pollution, Hispanic immigration (with its emphasis on who was doing their landscaping), cultural shallowness, and every other social ill plagueing the suburbs. Whether or not you agree with the Times' gross bias, I believe it is pretty obvious. When the Times provides articles like that fueling anti-Republican sentiment, I am reminded of their equally shallow stories regarding the new trend in planting oak trees in Hamptons homes of the Manhattan liberals and another from 2003 making light of second home owners digging a channel to drain a wetland so their basements do not flood, and the list goes on and on reguarding shallow stories from the left side of the political spectrum all across the country. Of course I am biased for living in a seasonal mecca of Times reading Manhattanites, but the trend is apparent when reading similar articles in the LA Times and DC Post. So while the Times did a great job of portraying conservative suburbs as wastelands, it needs to be reminded of the liberal, equally shallow communities and second home communities it greatly influences....which have the same traffic jams and Hispanic landscapers.

    Other than that rant, I hope readers of the article to can find its merits and obvious flaws, and not have an immediate anger towards the cultural group it demonizes.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller
    This article made me sad. I guess I don't understand why they make the dude move all the time when he's traveling 2-5 times a week anyway. Is it really worth making all that money if you can never settle down?
    Some people like to travel. I do. I don't happen to understand the whole traditional vacation thing -- how can you get to know a place when you are there only a week or two? I have enjoyed staying someplace for 18 months to 4+ years and getting to know it better. That has been a great experience for me. If you are young and energetic and have a restless nature and want to see the world, it can be a great lifestyle. I think you do get burned out on it after a while -- but, for me, that isn't some kind of "problem". To me, that means my hunger for something has been adequately met -- for now.

    Some people are just restless. They may complain about the downside of their lifestyle but the fact is that they probably wouldn't be happy with a more settled life. Also, the "nuclear family" is now the exception, not the norm. But there are benefits to the family as a whole to be able to have one parent at home full time -- and you don't have that option if the other parent doesn't get adequate pay and benefits.

    I am really not trying to "argue" with anyone. I am only trying to answer some of the questions that are coming up here and rebutt some of the judgments that I think are being made largely based on propaganda from a one-sided article and not on a more well-rounded view of the subjective experience of such a lifestyle. (So, I do appreciate the comments of BKM and The Fringe. Honest. I am just too tired to do what I should do and chat up the points I agree with and leave alone the "controversial" stuff, sigh. )

  12. #12
    Cyburbian nuovorecord's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by The Fringe
    I found the article very interesting, but yet it was all foreign to me since I've lived in the same small town in the Northeast for over 20 years.

    If you check out the discussion boards on the Times' website about the article, it looks like the Times did a perfect job getting its message across....that upper class, white, Christian Republicans are bad people...they are the cause of traffic, pollution, Hispanic immigration (with its emphasis on who was doing their landscaping), cultural shallowness, and every other social ill plagueing the suburbs. Whether or not you agree with the Times' gross bias, I believe it is pretty obvious. When the Times provides articles like that fueling anti-Republican sentiment, I am reminded of their equally shallow stories regarding the new trend in planting oak trees in Hamptons homes of the Manhattan liberals and another from 2003 making light of second home owners digging a channel to drain a wetland so their basements do not flood, and the list goes on and on reguarding shallow stories from the left side of the political spectrum all across the country. Of course I am biased for living in a seasonal mecca of Times reading Manhattanites, but the trend is apparent when reading similar articles in the LA Times and DC Post. So while the Times did a great job of portraying conservative suburbs as wastelands, it needs to be reminded of the liberal, equally shallow communities and second home communities it greatly influences....which have the same traffic jams and Hispanic landscapers.

    Other than that rant, I hope readers of the article to can find its merits and obvious flaws, and not have an immediate anger towards the cultural group it demonizes.
    You need to keep in mind that this particular article is one of a series the Times is doing on "Class" in America and how it influences destiny. It's intended to be a look at a certain class of individuals - those who are upwardly mobile middle class citizens and the lifestyle they lead. Go read the rest of the articles in the series - it's not intended to be a criticism of people's lifestyles, imho. Rather, an honest look at how people live, the choices they make, the situations they're stuck with, and what has happened in their lives to get them to that place.

    Personally, if they want to live like that, more power to them. But in my reading of the article, they seemed to be resigned to their lifestyle, rather than joyous about it. Or was that just the Times "liberal bias" coming through?
    "There's nothing wrong with America that can't be fixed by what's right with America." - Bill Clinton.

  13. #13

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    Off-topic:
    The idea of the NY Times having a liberal bias in any way but an Upper East Side noblesse oblige kind of liberalism is risable-especially as they give more and more space to people like David Brooks and that hack Judith Miller

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by nuovorecord
    Personally, if they want to live like that, more power to them. But in my reading of the article, they seemed to be resigned to their lifestyle, rather than joyous about it. Or was that just the Times "liberal bias" coming through?
    I am not that familiar with The Times. However, MOST people I have known in my life whine about their lives more than they express "joyousness" about it. Even if you are a die-hard optimist who believes in celebrating life, the day to day stuff gets to you. Most folks in this forum whine about how planners don't make enough money, the cr@p they have to put up with in dealing with the public, late meetings, etc. When you dig, most folks don't want to examine their choices too deeply. They don't want you to say "Well, if it bothers you that much...." They find that intrusive. The folks who genuinely loathe the way they are living and don't want to do it anymore, often make other choices -- sometimes at enormous personal cost.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    Honestly how many people here are like that? I often have a hard time keeping up with where everyone is. Except instead of chasing $200,000/yr promotions at huge international corporations, people here are chasing $60,000/yr planning jobs.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jordanb
    Honestly how many people here are like that? I often have a hard time keeping up with where everyone is. Except instead of chasing $200,000/yr promotions at huge international corporations, people here are chasing $60,000/yr planning jobs.
    I thought about that as well. But there seem to be a lot of jobs in corporate America that require lots of travel and relocation. And (liberal generalization coming) corporate culture methinks treats employees as movable parts so long as they pay them enough money.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller
    I thought about that as well. But there seem to be a lot of jobs in corporate America that require lots of travel and relocation. And (liberal generalization coming) corporate culture methinks treats employees as movable parts so long as they pay them enough money.
    This is a fascinating article and explains the ongoing bifurcation that Im seeing here in the Dayton area...an area that is dramatically shedding "goods producing" jobs, yet still has upper-middle class suburban sprawl areas similar to Alpharetta, for the corporate, infotech, and military-industrial-complex affluent folks who transfer in and out of the area...


    Im sort of suprised at the hostility to this article on this board as it really rings true to me...including the status-seeking and conformist charater of these people.

    "Converging on these towns, relos have segregated themselves, less by the old barriers of race, religion and national origin than by age, family status, education and, especially, income. Families with incomes of $100,000 head for subdivisions built entirely of $300,000 houses; those earning $200,000 trade up to subdivisions of $500,000 houses. Isolated, segmented and stratified, these families are cut off from the single, the gay and the gray and, except for those tending them, anyone from lower classes.

    Unlike their upper-middle-class kindred - the executives, doctors and lawyers who settle down in one place - relos forgo the old community props of their class: pedigree and family ties; seats on the vestry and the hospital board; and the rituals, like charity balls. Left with the class's emblematic cars, Lily Pulitzer skirts and Ralph Lauren shirts, their golf, tennis and soccer and, most conspicuously, their houses, they have staked out their place and inflated the American dream. "


    ...very true. Actually it even sort of describes me!

  18. #18
    The article was interesting and probably dead on accurate when describing certain suburbs. However, when reading it in a political frame of mind, I easily picked up on the Times' witty choice to profile a Republican family, when certainly not every "relo" is conservative. The journalists wrote this article to generate some sort of buzz.....and when you read the discussion boards regarding the article at their website, you can see about half reacted with fierce hostility toward the Links and the cultural group of which they fall under.

    Definately check it out.....

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    Of course, the profiled family is a stereotype, but then again stereotypes often contain a grain or two of truth...And of course the Times reflects a certain perspective, but that doesn't make the generalizations contained in this piece invalid...For my part, I have known plenty of liberals, but have never known an Upper East Side/Georgetown/Hamptons upper middle class (much less upper class) liberal, while I have known many conservatives such as are described in the article. That's just a relection of my (relatively) unprivileged life, but the general point that there are far, far more exurban conservatives than Manhattan liberals still stands.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian
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    So you want the viewpoint of someone faced with making this lifestyle choice? I spent my growing up years living in the same house, in a middle-class family with a dad that worked for the federal government--consistent ties to the community.

    My spouse began work as an engineer for a small family-owned manufacturing company. He expaneded his horizons into management/marketing. The samll firm was bought by a multi-national company. As downsizing and movment of the facility's manufacturing overseas loomed, we escaped to Europe. Now that downsizing of that facility is complete, we face the choice of move back to a job in a fixed location (stability which I need to reestablish a planning career), with little chance of promotion and constant fear of more manufacturing moving overseas, or head up the management ladder. In an international/multinational company, this means frequent travel to meet with customers and plant managers, and frequent relocation to the next job up the ladder, which is most likely to be in another faciliity (not to mention the need to be well-rounded to continue up the corporate ladder).

    I don't know that people graduate college and set out to be a "relo" family. In fact, I'd rather not be. But when the opportunities are there don't you have to grab onto them? And international companies need to put their facilities in places where there executives (and their families---HUGE stress is on these wives and children, with all the moving) will be happy, and compensate in a way that makes it worth it for the stress that this puts on their lives. Some of the "homoginization" of these upper-class suburbs may be a result of wanting to reduce the amount of stress on lives, (yes, I know its all countered by the endless driving and traffic....) And also, how long do you want to house-hunt for a house you may only live in 2 years? Easy to pick a nice new one in a neighborhood just like you left three states away...

    Being an expat, as opposed to in my own country, I am thrown together with a lot of people in the same situation---through our children and our schools, I see a lot of women who are given the opportunity here to contribute to the (expat) community; however, if instead we were the lone temporary "outsiders" in a US community I don't think we would be as welcomed and included...we're only just going to move again...so I'm sure this figures into the relo-family psyche as well.

    So what will we do next? We've got a year to figure it out. I'd love to live in a pre-1940s house, where I can walk to the flourishing downtown of a nice small-medium sized city, establish community ties, my own planning consulting firm, and stay there until retirement. Is this compatable with my spouse working for a multinational corporation? Probably not. Unfortunately to avoid a future in suburbia, we'd probably have to remain expats...

  21. #21
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Michele Zone
    Also, I don't think the article indicates why they do this.
    I think it is very obvious: lots o' $$$$

  22. #22
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Michele Zone
    Some people like to travel. I do. I don't happen to understand the whole traditional vacation thing -- how can you get to know a place when you are there only a week or two? I have enjoyed staying someplace for 18 months to 4+ years and getting to know it better.
    I agree, but I believe that one of the points in the article is that this family moves from one identical wealthy exurb to another, with very little interaction with local culture and society. Each neighborhood likely has all the same design, architecture, amenities, retail, etc.

    In the end, they choose to live in a more heterogenous and robust neighborhood in central Charlotte.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jmello
    I think it is very obvious: lots o' $$$$
    Well, it may not be as simple as that. As I said: if you want the traditional nuclear family, one spouse has to have a more substantial income than is the norm these days. It used to be more feasible to live on one income, in part because family medical benefits were more common. The percentage of people who have good family medical coverage has sharply declined -- many jobs only offer medical coverage for the employee but not the spouse and kids. For that and other reasons, money may just be a means to an end.

    I agree, but I believe that one of the points in the article is that this family moves from one identical wealthy exurb to another, with very little interaction with local culture and society. Each neighborhood likely has all the same design, architecture, amenities, retail, etc.

    In the end, they choose to live in a more heterogenous and robust neighborhood in central Charlotte.
    In the military, there are two types: those who treat the locals with hostility, never learn the language of a foreign country they are stationed in, etc -- ie folks who are a military version of the example in the article. The other type learns the language (at least somewhat), lives like a perpetual tourist, and has an enriching experience which makes them more broad-minded. There is a certain amount of choice involved and people can be a little bit of each of these things. And how much of each you do can vary from person to person, from place to place, and over the course of your life. I say again: the article had an agenda -- which is fine. The author or paper is certainly entitled to have an agenda. But that agenda was to present a stereotype -- to profile a "typical" family. While there is almost always some truth to stereotypes, usually very few people fit them closely. The article had no agenda to give you a well-rounded picture of variations within this group and it is not unusual for people to emphasize their similarities in a group setting and minimize their differences. For that reason, groups often appear to be far more homogenous than they really are.

  24. #24

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    I think skyfire makes some good points. Which confirms my skepticism towards overly-large scale, multinational organizations. Not denying their manifest benefits, of course, but they do impose costs on human families and communities.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    I think skyfire makes some good points. Which confirms my skepticism towards overly-large scale, multinational organizations. Not denying their manifest benefits, of course, but they do impose costs on human families and communities.
    That is a sentiment I can agree with. I think policies, laws, culture, etc. need to change to make smaller businesses more viable and less vulnerable to big business. Business and economic development should serve humans, not the other way around.

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