Bohemian: a person with artistic or literary interests who disregards conventional standards of behavior (American Heritage). But you could also say it’s a matter of ‘you know one when you see one.’ Dorothy Gambrell’s maps of the boroughs show where the major areas of ‘bohemian-ness’ exist. Here she explains her findings to us.
What, in your opinion, is a bohemian?
A bohemian is someone who believes they cannot be defined by their job. Bohemians devote their lives to the pursuit of things other than money, but end up with a stable income. Bohemians believe that there is a class system in America, and believe themselves exempt.
Why did you start this project?
People talk about ‘hipsters’ like it applies to everyone but them and maybe some of their closer acquaintances. I was looking for a way to quantify what a hipster was and cut through anyone-but-me prattle when a friend mentioned the possibilities of measuring the inverse relationship between income and education. Upon further investigation this measure appeared to be ideal for sniffing out bohemians rather than hipsters. (For the purposes of our study we will define hipsters as younger, meaning that they are often not finished with their post-high school education and are not yet economically self-sufficient.) As economic and educational data is available by zip code from the U.S. Census, mapping was the ideal way to display this information. Once the question had been defined and the data had been located there was no way to not go ahead with the project. I had to see how it ended.
How do you calculate ‘bohemian-ness?’
The Bohemian Index is measured by dividing education completed or currently being undertaken by residents by the median household income. In order to differentiate between which academic accomplishments would signify possible bohemianism among different age groups, the percentage of people 25 or older with a bachelor’s degree is combined with the percentage of people 18—24 with some college or an associates degree or higher at a ratio of 7:1. The ratio of 7:1 is an approximation of the ratio of people over 25 to those 18—24 years old in New York City.
What findings do you have? Any theories you’ve developed out of it?
Most surprising was how conservative bohemians were, living in areas that were thought hip and charming 40 years ago. Astoria, Long Island City, and the South Bronx have all been crowned the next Williamsburg, while Williamsburg’s Bohemian Index is average. I would love to see a companion map graphing the amount New York neighborhoods donated to NPR. If it could be cross-referenced with donations to WFMU, so much the better.
What’s the single most bohemian area? Single least?
The most bohemian area is zip code 10027, roughly corresponding to Morningside Heights. Hello, Columbia University! The least bohemian area—by a wide margin—is the John F. Kennedy International Airport. The least bohemian residential areas are South Ozone Park and South Richmond Hill, which are located just north of JFK in Queens.
Is there any correlation between your findings and rent prices?
That’s a tricky question, since a number of the less bohemian areas (especially as you approach Westchester or Long Island) are communities of homeowners. You will see higher rents in more traditionally desirable areas like Manhattan, but large differences in the Bohemian Index within Manhattan (like that between Morningside Heights and the Upper East Side, or Chelsea and the West Village) are not reflected in rent differences.
Looking at the maps, what’s there to do in Rego Park, Queens, do you think, that makes it such an anomaly?
I hear they have a mall there. With a Sears store. Possibly Marshall’s as well.