Aarian Marshall is a transportation reporter at WIRED and former CityLab contributor. She lives in San Francisco.
It may sound silly, but it’s really a sign of the growing urban generational divide.
Deep in Bushwick, Brooklyn, lives a particularly entrepreneurial transplant. But this is not your garden-variety young Brooklyn beardo—Nina Keneally is 63. She and her husband lived in Connecticut for 30 years before they decided to follow one of their sons to Kings County. There, the theater producer with a background in therapy had an idea: There were so many lost-looking young folks wandering around Bushwick’s coffee shops and yoga studios, so why shouldn’t she rent herself out as … a mom?
Keneally introduced Need a Mom to the world through a sponsored post in the Bushwick Daily. From the post:
Nina is ready to provide you with a shoulder to lean on, to iron your shirt or to sew a button on before that big interview. She won’t however do your laundry or organize your closet. She is a mom, not your maid after all! So if you’re lonely Nina will take a walk with you or will come to watch a movie with you and bring popcorn. She will buy presents for your family members if you don’t have time or lack ideas and will even wrap them for you.
Rates are as yet undetermined, but Keneally indicates that a trip out to your Bushwick apartment to deliver a steaming pot of her chicken noodle soup would run you around 40 bucks. The New York Post reports that she already has six Brooklyn-based clients.
Let’s get the obvious out there: This is strange. Maybe it’s a sweet alternative for those who have lost or been estranged from their mothers, but the wayward youth of the outer boroughs might be better off ponying up for a real therapist. Or, if they really want to hang with the older and wiser, volunteer at a senior center.
But it’s also true that Keneally has picked up on an important and growing urban phenomenon. In work released earlier this year, the geographer and planner Markus Moos called it “youthification,” the “influx of young adults into higher density” neighborhoods. (It’s worth noting that this is distinct from, though related to, gentrification.)
Here’s Moos’ map of New York. Notice the blocks in Bushwick are either red or yellow, indicating high concentrations of young adults between ages 25 and 34.
Keneally is right: There are a bunch of young people in Bushwick.
To Moos, the convergence of the young upon particular areas of a city is not necessarily a bad thing. But “there are clear signs,” he writes, “of a process of youthification underway that is indeed creating generationed spaces in our cities that if intensified in the future could lead to further intergenerational conflict.” Of course, segregation by age is not nearly as problematic as socioeconomic and racial segregation, Moos argues, but research shows that not interacting with people of different ages can lead to ageism.
So to those who want to rent a mom—go ahead and rent a mom! But as young people flock to amenity-filled city centers, cities should also be thinking about ways to foster simple (and free) intergenerational friendship.