every year seemingly on the dot there’s an article about this, and to your average New Yorker who reads the news this is probably your only ‘negative’ article about the Hamptons. And like, yeah, this shit is annoying, people will fly really fucking low in secluded areas and if you live on the flight path you might get like 40 helicopters a day, but honestly?
This is no where near the biggest issue the Hamptons faces. Not even close. But it’s an issue that gets hits because it lets us laugh at an issue that’s mostly millionaires vs billionaires because in the popular imagination those are the only people who live in the Hamptons. More on that in a second but here are some of the issues that your average person faces and sees.
50 people died in the Hamptons from opiod abuse last year. That might not seem like a lot but in towns where the year-round population numbers in the hundreds its huge, and it grew by 70% last year. I had this conversation with a friend a year back about this, about how if you stay in the Hamptons there’s this point you get to where everyone you know knows someone who died either because of drugs or because of alcohol.
Homelessness is a pervasive issue in the east end too, and it’s an issue that’s gotten infinitely worse with the arrival of AirBNB. Montauk in particular is awful about this; rent goes from around 800 a month for a room to more than a thousand a week (or a day) during the summer, and, and this is just a fun anecdote, but there’s an abandoned army base in Montauk that was the inspiration for the army base in Stranger Things, and it’s basically a shanty town during the summer for people who are just working as waiters and taxi drivers but who can’t afford close to a room there. In general cost of living is high as hell, you might be able to snag a 15$ an hour job if you’re lucky but if you’re not then lunch still goes for twelve at least and nearly all the retail space in any village is dedicated to shit that you could never possibly afford.
The rampant increase in housing prices has also priced out historic black communities in the Hamptons which gets to another issue which is the brutal and pervasive segregation the region faces. It’s even getting to the point where a NYC style private-public schooling system is de facto in place which drains funding from Latino, African American, and Native American majority districts as the rich white kids go to a pseudo-private school. The Latino and black communities exist basically outside of the dominant white communities and neighboring Hampton Bays (which is or is not in the Hamptons depending on who you ask) has the largest KKK chapter in the United States.
This isn’t even getting into the issues with public transit, the issues with environmental degradation, suicide rates, etc. These issues, of drug addiction, pervasive poverty, racism, hopelessness, they’re, like, none of it will probably sound new to you. They’re issues in nearly every rural community in the United States. But, even though the Hamptons are a mere 100 miles away from NYC and gets more media attention than your average town in New Mexico or Indiana or Montana, these issues are hardly ever talked about in the context of the Hamptons. Two years ago if you were looking for a mass media depiction of poverty in the Hamptons you had like two or three articles to go on, tops.
What gets me about the pervasiveness of these “oh these stupid rich people and their rich people problems” articles seem to me to be like the horrifying end phase of the hyper-gentrification of the Hamptons. A town becomes a target for rich summergoers, it becomes known as a resort town, and gradually the poor people (who live everywhere, who work everywhere) fade from view and disappear from the public image. They become the subaltern of their own home, known only under the signifier of ‘local’, as hillbillies with hick accents. Their history is forgotten as their past becomes similarly owned by the people who own their house, who own their labor (seriously before the Eastville Historical society was formed in the 1980s the history of the Hamptons working class which was a beautiful combination of Irish and East European immigrants, Native Americans, and freed slaves was nearly entirely forgotten). The changes the region needs are radical but they are not even thinkable because the only constituency we can imagine are the millionaires who’s problems amount to a guy driving over their house in a helicopter once or twice a day.
That’s why, beyond the fact that I lived there for nearly 16 years, the Hamptons are important to me. Because it’s the end of the line for where our economic model goes. Because it goes along the line where gentrification crosses into colonization.