sometimes they’ll just show you the strings

Here’s The New Republic‘s Hillary Kelly, ostensibly talking about how you shouldn’t say you’re from the city when you’re really from the suburbs, and really about how Hillary Kelly is a cool and interesting person, and therefore also about how Hillary Kelly feels like she has to sell everybody on the idea that she’s a cool and interesting person, and therefore probably doesn’t really feel like a cool and interesting person. Oh, it’s also about how Hillary Kelly’s Cool Story Bro boyfriend tells a Cool Story Bro story sometimes. I’m really entirely unclear on why I’m reading about Hillary Kelly’s boyfriend’s inane geographical musings, but then I guess that’s the internet.

Do you think she’s aware that there are many large cities in the world, such as Mexico City and Tokyo, where there simply is no clear dividing line between the city and the suburbs? That, in fact, the notion of such a clear boundary is foreign to many cultures and governments? I mean, that would be an important point to make, in an argument about how the suburbs aren’t the cities! It’s the sort of knowledge that, if you’re being paid real money to write something for a professional magazine like The New Republic, you might bother researching. But oh well!

Perhaps next time save that one for the Tumblr. Or just say the hell with it and literally write “everybody be envious of my interesting life!” You know, for economy of expression’s sake.


  1. Kelly’s own hometown of Philly has a vast area, called Northeast Philly, which is absolutely suburban, even if it is technically inside the city proper. I guess Kelly would prefer the Northeast Philadelphians not say they’re from Philly, lest they give the false impression they’re from the “cool” part of Philly which has the Italian Market and the pop-up beer gardens or whatever.

    1. Philadelphia turns out to be a terrible example all around. It is a massive sprawly city that contains a ton of its own suburbs (Houston would be even worse, of course). Compare to a place like Washington DC or even Detroit, where the city itself is fairly contained and the suburbs sprawl out around it.

      At the end of the day, the relationship between people from Arlington VA and Washington DC is probably much closer than the relationship between people from Chestnut Hill (the far-flung part of Philly, that is actually inside the city limits of Philadelphia, where my wife grew up ) and Center City Philadelphia.

      1. Ah, but Chestnut Hill and Center City (a good 10 miles distant) are much more closely related than Chestnut Hill and Plymouth Meeting (barely 5 miles in the other direction). Municipal boundaries (tax base, public services, school system) can end up making a big difference.

      2. Even Northeast Philly has a ton of dense rowhouses.

        Detroit is almost NOTHING but first generation of worker cottage suburbs, too low density to be really “urban” but too dense to appeal to recent market demands for brand new larger homes on cul de sacs. This low-ish density development, combined with repetitive design, and sometimes poor construction is a one of the contributing factors to the tragedy of Detroit.

      3. What on Earth are you talking about? Philadelphia is one of the most dense, most urban cities in this country… second only to New York. The Northeast isn’t suburban. That’s the Far Northeast, and most of it is still more urban than the majority of places you all are boosting as urban.

    1. Nope, no one pretends to be from Philly. But people from the suburbs, especially the western suburbs, will often say they’re from Philly. And yeah they basically are.

      I don’t think many people are doing any “pretending” at all when it comes to this stuff. The premise that everyone outside Manhattan and the Mission District is a fraud clawing for urban cultural capital is a snobbery at its most provincial.

  2. In my experience, people pretending to be from places is not a thing. However, people telling *other* people where those people are and aren’t from is definitely a thing.

    For instance, I knew some people who grew up in Brooklyn NY, and were horrified when people from Manhasset NY or Hempstead NY (which are like 15 minutes from Penn Station on the commuter line) would say they’re “from NYC.” “No…you’re from Long Island!” the Brooklynites would say.

    Then, because I couldn’t help myself, I’d chime in to point out that Brooklyn itself is in fact located on Long Island. One Brooklynite went so far as to dispute this hard geographic fact. Others conceded: “OK, but when I say Long Island, I mean the part of Long Island which is not where I’m from, because I am from Brooklyn and NYC, whereas those people in Hempstead and Manhasset are not from where I’m from.” I still think this is the purest type of provincialism I’ve ever encountered.

    1. That’s dumb, man. Yes there is a land mass called Long Island, and Brooklyn is physically on it, but the place referred to & understood as “Long Island” isn’t physically coextensive with this land mass. Brooklyn is one of the 5 boroughs and it indisputably belongs to the city, not Long Island. You might as well say the Bronx is located in Upstate NY since it shares the same land mass, and kids from Westchester can claim to be from the Bronx. In reality they would be fools to do this.

      1. I don’t know where you yourself live, but you sound like one of these provincials I’m talking about, twisting and conflating local geographic realities so that you can tell people where they are and aren’t from.

        Long Island, which is a physical island and has been for eons, is not a political entity, and so nothing “belongs” to Long Island in the sense that Brooklyn “belongs” to NYC (ie in a political sense).

        Upstate New York is not a landmass, it’s a loosely defined cultural designation referring to areas of New York State which are outside the NYC metro area. The Bronx “shares the same landmass” not with Upstate New York but rather with mainland North America. You might find this observation “dumb, man,” but it’s important for understanding a lot of the Bronx’s peculiar problems, such as why it has more asthma-causing truck traffic than do NYC’s other 4 boroughs, which are all on islands; or, for that matter, why big swathes of the Bronx were torn down in the 50s and 60s to make way for expressways.

        Westchester is a county, which is a political designation. Obviously people from Westchester County to do not say they’re from Bronx County. However, they might say they’re from NYC, meaning the metropolitan area of NYC, and would be right to do so, since that is indeed where they are from. Similarly, no one from Nassau County or Suffolk County in Long Island says they’re from Kings County, where Brooklyn is located, or from Queens County, where Queens is located. However, they do often say they’re from NYC, because — again — that is indeed the metro area they live in.

        1. The designation of where “Upstate” is is itself one of those endlessly amusing provincialist endeavors. To people in New Jersey, “Upstate” is anywhere in New York that isn’t the city or Long Island. But people from the Albany area will be quick to point out that they are the only ones who have a legitimate claim to the term “Upstate.” Being married to a woman who is from “Western New York,” I can tell you that this kind of “narcissism of small differences” is endemic among New Yorkers. “I’m not from Upstate, I’m from the Finger Lakes district.” “I’m not from Upstate, I’m from Central New York.” “I’m not from Upstate, I’m from the Hudson Valley.”

          Of course, to some people, “Upstate” is anything north of 59th St.

          1. Syracuse NY has a major medical university called SUNY Upstate, which I think might be the only official institution in New York State which uses the term “Upstate” in its name. So it would seem that, wherever “Upstate” is, it certainly encompasses Syracuse, which is pretty far west.

        2. “I don’t know where you yourself live, but you sound like one of these provincials I’m talking about, twisting and conflating local geographic realities so that you can tell people where they are and aren’t from.”

          Yeah? Or maybe people who are actually from the region in question know more about it than some clown who’s seen a map of Long Island?

          1. “I’m from here, you’re not, I don’t care about the hard physical realities on the map, I say Brooklyn’s not on Long Island so it’s not on Long Island” — that is provincialism! This attitude is precisely what I mean when I use the word.

            For what it’s worth, I did live in NYC long enough to notice that some people who grew up there had a remarkably self-involved mental map of their own city.

    2. I’ll give you a purer example of provincialism, albeit from 25 years ago. I was asking for directions in Brooklyn and accidentally named a street in Manhattan rather than Brooklyn (I forget which ones I mixed up). The past-middle-aged man I was asking chastised me, “That’s in New York City!” That’s what Brooklynites used to call Manhattan.

  3. I dunno, Freddie, she’s a snob about being from the city, but she immediately cops to it, describing it as her “urban elitism.” After reading your post I was surprised at how little she talks about herself in the piece. Anyway, I think she makes a good point cause I’m an “elitist” too. I grew up in the city at a time when American cities were pretty rough (70s-80s). Being a kid in the city inevitably meant you paid certain dues, and claiming to be from there when you weren’t was/is uncool.

    1. I’m imagining the silver-spooner who grew up in the ultra-fancy Back Bay neighborhood of Boston telling the lower-income kid from the gritty blue-collar suburb of Revere that he’s not allowed to say he’s from Boston.

      1. Boston’s a big exception anyway, because so many of the “suburbs” are still urban and everyone who knows Boston knows this… Still, everyone I ever met from Revere said they were from Revere.

          1. So basically whenever somebody completely refutes you, you try to act like they’re being ridiculous.

            And it’s the same where I’m from, by the way. Nobody I know would ever claim to be from Philly because we’re proud to be from our working class borough.

  4. The first clue that someone is from the suburbs is that they use the term “Philly.”*

    *(very particular exceptions apply)

    1. Nope. Philly is what everyone says. You know, to save syllables.

      I did meet one oddball who preferred to say “Phila.”

      1. Personal experiences may vary, but in 40 years I’ve virtually never heard someone from the city use the term “Philly” in normal conversation, except in compounds like “South Philly”, “West Philly”, etc. You wouldn’t save that many syllables anyway, since “Philadelphia” has only 3.

        1. Oh come on. You mean “-delphia” only has 3. “Philadelphia” has 5 syllables, which makes it a long name, as U.S. city names go.

          But you’re right that when people from Philly tell people who *aren’t* from Philly where they’re from, they say “Philadelphia.” This is because Philadelphians instinctively know that their city, while pleasant, isn’t that important and people from elsewhere can’t be expected to know the abbreviation. Contrast this with people from Los Angeles who’ll go tromping around Europe and Asia and expecting people to know what “Ell Ae” is.

          1. Are you even from Philly? Nobody from Philly thinks the way you do. Only a delusional person who is clearly not from Philly would think the city isn’t important.

    2. Yup. It’s always neighborhood or section. I have never once run into somebody from Philly who didn’t specify which part.

  5. If you pay $2500/mo for a studio in Bed Sty as opposed to $600/mo for a studio in Elizabeth New Jersey, what are you paying for? Social capital obviously. So people from LI/CT/NJ who claim to be from New York are a form of counterfeiter.

    1. Nope. Elizabeth NJ is 25 minutes from Manhattan, via expensive and inconvenient commuter rail. Whereas, Bed-Stuy is 8 minutes from Manhattan, via subway lines which are cheap and frequent. The rent difference is determined by convenience and proximity, not by “cultural capital.”

      At any rate, it so happens that people from the NJ/CT suburbs hardly ever say they’re from NYC, preferring to say they’re from Jersey or CT. Long Island is a different case, since it’s not its own state.

  6. But if you’re from Greenwich, CT and you say “well I live in the New York area” it’s a bit like saying “I went to school in New Jersey” if you went to Princeton. It’s a social hieroglyph meant only for an in the know elite.

  7. A strange article indeed, as one generally stops encountering the behavior she decries upon graduating from college. One of the first people I met when I was a freshman at Southern State U. was this kid who grew up in a huge house in Northern Virginia but told everyone he was “from D.C.” to gain a little bit of that sweet urban cred. But that was a very clear example of poseurosity, to coin a word.

    People from the Atlanta area are notorious for doing what she’s talking about, but Atlanta is a perfect example of a sprawling megalopolis with no clear boundaries. Who knows where “Atlanta” ends and “Powder Springs, GA” begins? Who cares?

    I can also tell you that, irrespective of what Hillary Kelly thinks, no one from Jersey tells anyone that they’re “from New York.”

    1. DC’s a tricky case, because there are no suburbs inside the District itself, and also because when people think of “DC” they don’t imagine a normal city with a commercial center and the like, but rather a place full of monumental government buildings and sweeping lawns. If I lived in Tyson’s Corner VA or wherever, I think I’d tell people I was in “metro DC” rather saying I was from “NoVa” (a term I’d never be able to say with a straight face).

      As Freddie points out in his post, these distinctions are pretty contrived, since most major cities in the world just have the entire metro area lumped into one big political unit. This why you never meet a Brit who introduces himself/herself as being from Edgeware UK or Bromley UK. Those are major suburbs, but really it’s all just Greater London.

  8. Amazing that she reads saying you’re from a city when you’re from nearby it as “snobbery” when it’s usually merely an attempt not to kill conversational flow or make the other people feel dumb for not knowing where a city is. In DC and NYC, where almost no one is from here, people tend to start out saying things like “I’m from Philly. I’m from Los Angeles. I’m from Gainesville,” because it’s an easier cultural shorthand when talking to people from around the country than saying, “I’m from Bethlehem” (‘like, biblical times?’ ‘no, pennsylvania.’ ‘oh, what area is that?’ ‘sort of eastern central.’ ‘so, near Philly?’) or wherever. What kind of an ass do you have to be to assume that starting out saying Philly there would be to take on all that vast cultural cool Philly has instead of to make the conversation easier?

    1. (sent before finishing my thought, whoops: AND THEN if someone knows the area, like says, ‘oh, wow, you’re from Philly? Me too!’, THEN you get into greater geographical specificity)

    2. If you’re from Bethlehem claim Bethlehem. It’s more of a city than most places that are labeled cities these days and has an identity and history of its own.

  9. The most irritating part of the piece was this:

    “I’m proud to come of my hometown—proud that, as a kid, I could rattle off Philly’s neighborhoods and understand the cultural intricacies of each one, a kid who loved watching the cityscape change as I took the bus deeper into Philly to my grandmother’s house, who knew which areas were dangerous and which were gentrifying (thanks to my father, a police officer).”

    I grew up a five minute walk outside DC and can claim identical memories for my city, as I’m sure some kids from the Philly inner suburbs can too. And there are plenty of cops in Montgomery County (which is the name of suburban counties outside of both cities), just as there are plenty of rich snobs in DC and Philly. It’s clever of her to drop that otherwise irrelevant blue collar signifier, which gives the false impression that Philly is monolithically gritty or authentic or whatever, while the suburbs are monolithically bland and rich. There’s no major metro area in the country where demographics are perfectly correlated with the nominal political borders of the city. And I defy anyone to cross the DC-MD border anywhere and explain how it’s anything other than a line on a map. I imagine this is true of Philly as well.

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