I’ve warned you guys about the dangers of aspirational brands when you are trying to live within your means. Aspirational brands are those shiny sirens of stuff promising you that men in slim-fit wool pants with hard bodies and women who look like Gisele will flock to you when you buy them. Their price points are always just beyond the realm of credibility ($225 for a wallet? I guess that seems reasonable) and their advertising departments are filled with marketing geniuses who think and drink like Don Draper. So we’ve got that down. We know we don’t need Tory Burch flats in every color (when we can’t afford them). We’re not buying every scent that Juicy Couture puts out (even if it does smell like cotton candy heaven and delicate rose petals). We’ve got our shopping habit under control! So we should we be well on our way out of debt. Except there’s yet another subtle temptress in the form of the aspirational neighborhood, and I am tired of these places draining my cash. I’ll show you how to spot them so you can keep a fun evening out from turning into a night that sends you to the poorhouse.
An aspirational neighborhood is better known as a trendy neighborhood, a hot spot or a tourist
trap attraction. I work in design and construction, so to be perfectly honest, I LOVE aspirational neighborhoods. Developers, real estate owners and the the local government have usually come together to draw up a master plan for the community, incentives are created to draw top-notch merchants and tenants, and the design is usually pleasing and pedestrian-friendly. Many trendy neighborhoods were formerly run-down areas of “urban blight” (not crazy about that term), but business owners and community leaders have come together to rejuvenate this part of town and give it a new name. It takes many years and joint effort to create all of these positive effects. All of that is excellent for the local economy. So why would I tell you to spend less time in these neighborhoods?
Because all of those great elements combine to persuade the public to spend its money in the neighborhood and lots of it! I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to get out of debt, I just can’t spend like I used to, and man do I love spending time in these feel-good, overspend-my-money, life-is-too-short-to-worry kind of neighborhoods. I’m probably even more attracted to aspirational neighborhoods than similarly marketed products and brands. Neighborhoods can embody a lifestyle. I see all kinds of relaxed, happy people in these areas. I think: man, this is nice! This is living! What the heck am I doing living in that box I call an apartment? Can I afford a condo here? (answer: no). Look at the view! Smell the fresh air! I would be outside all day long if I lived here!
It’s a neat little trick that these neighborhoods play. Maybe you can’t afford to live here, but you can certainly enjoy a good meal here. Or maybe you can come shopping with your girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse and pick out something nice together. Maybe some objets d’art for the home? STOP! It’s a trap! It’s going to start an endless cycle of wanting, wishing, hoping…when you could be planning, thinking, doing!
Here are just a few features of aspirational neighborhoods that will help you to distinguish them.
Basic Features of Aspirational Neighborhoods
Lack of Parking and Mandatory Paid/Valet Parking
Nothing screams aspirational more than limited street parking and expensive valet or garage parking. It’s just an element of the design. It’s nice to have pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods, but if you are driving in from somewhere else, be prepared to pay.
Mediocre Restaurants Charging Exorbitant Prices
Ever paid $8 for a glass of juice at brunch? My budget can survive an occasional great meal out (Pizzeria Mozza for my friend’s birthday was worth it) but not when the food is totally average. I hate paying aspirational prices for food that’s done better at an IHOP. Mmm, IHOP.
A Lot of People Trying Really Hard
Am I getting old or what? I never want to go out anymore! If I am going out, I want to be able to wear flip flops and jeans. Wearing heels when I don’t have to sounds like a lot of work. When I see a gaggle of girls dressed in their going-out clothes, I’m just thankful I’m not buying any $12 mojitos. Plus, your aspirational neighborhoods draw a lot of guys wearing striped shirts.
Optional Features of Aspirational Neighborhoods
A Retail Store That Would Never Survive in a Regular Neighborhood
You know what I’m talking about. These are the stores where you walk by and think, WTF? Jewel-encrusted Hello Kitty accessories? Beaded sarongs/wraps/dresses that all look the same selling for $125 and up? Birkenstocks store (they still sell those)??! American Girl dolls cost how much? Just imagine that store in a strip mall.
Near-Bubble Prices on Mixed-Use Retail/Residential Projects
Ambitious developers usually go for overkill in neighborhoods that have performed well. Inevitably, they try to make one last great project, some all-in-one utopia for the trendiest of the uber-trendy: the mixed-use project. It’s got live/work lofts, retail spaces on the first floor, a convenience store that charges $8 for a gallon of milk (and no we’re not in Hawai’i!). If these projects came too late in the development game, they’re sitting empty and overpriced. But they still probably look really cool.
Lack of Crime Leads to Citation-Happy Police Force
I curse you, Santa Monica PD. Your traffic cops in their strange-looking egg-shaped golf carts cite parking violations with the ferocity of a lion stalking a baby gazelle. Traffic officers in aspirational neighborhoods like Santa Monica, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills are extremely efficient and sophisticated in giving out tickets. Unlike the LAPD, whose overwhelmed officers are spending their days dodging bullets and catching real criminals, these police departments have an entire fleet of parking officers because it is such a moneymaker for the city. Not that other areas don’t have parking officers, but in trendy/aspirational neighborhoods, they are so numerous and active that you will definitely get a ticket for a meter that’s been expired for more than 5 seconds.
Top Examples of Aspirational Neighborhoods
Prospect Street in La Jolla, California
Spend one day in Prospect Street in La Jolla and I dare you not to want to return. The views are amazing but they come with a price-tag, unless you have something called self-control (I don’t!) and can enjoy a day of strolling, looking but not touching.
Georgetown in Washington, DC
Georgetown. So quaint, so gorgeous on a spring day. The place for overpriced dining and shopping in DC. Your head will be spinning after the 10th pair of lobster-embroidered pants that walk by.
Don’t get me wrong, I love these fun neighborhoods. I want to hang out in them, but I want even more to be able to afford to hang out in them. Eventually, going to the go-to place becomes less important, even though you’ll have the funds to do so. I think I’m there. I can go to spots like these or be just as happy staying home. And until I am at a place where a $100 meal has no effect on my income, I’ll steer clear of these neighborhoods as much as possible, and head down to Don Chuy’s for 99 cent tacos and get my great views and fresh air at the beach.