GOOGLE "BABY BOOMER," and you find a solid frame with a well-defined picture inside. Boomers are post-World War II babies born between 1946 and 1964. (It’s those 1946 babies making news for turning 65 this year.) But things get fuzzy with Generation X, which is accorded a post-boomer beginning but a vague ending, and even fuzzier with the Millennials, or Generation Y, which only gets a start guess of anywhere from the mid-’70s to 1980 and a nebulous ending of the early aughts.
That I’m not on the end of any of these ranges, but in the middle, I think creates my strong Gen X self-identification. But my generation is not so keen (as the boomers, anyway) to embrace a brand name for ourselves. The poor Millennials can’t even get agreement on what they’re called. I suspect boomer sociologists and pop-culturists can’t bring themselves to give those coming up behind them a proper generation ID with time frame and label. No, they will be the last ones to carry a clear distinction; they will continue to be special.
Each generation thinks the one preceding it is out of touch and the subsequent one self-entitled and lazy, and each generation thinks it’s leading the biggest rebellion. Gen X is no different there. But, I wonder, are those of my generation, born to early boomers in the ’70s, an uncomfortable reminder to our parents of how they sold out and what they sold out for? We didn’t grow up on communes; we grew up in split-levels situated on orderly cul-de-sacs. Despite our parents’ protests, we’re inheriting an America that has not stopped getting involved in questionable foreign wars. We definitely didn’t grow up without political corruption. We were latchkey kids. Both our parents worked. A great number of our parents divorced. We were slackers. We wore baggy jeans in college. We listened to grunge. In Philadelphia, we watched boomers maintain the status quo of corruption and business as usual. There remained a pervasive can’t-do attitude among the city’s residents that’s been a broken record for decades.
But if you listen closely enough, you’ll hear the stuttering skip has been stopped, or at least muffled. Post-boomer generations are finally lifting the needle.
THAT I CELEBRATED NEW YEAR’S EVE on a South Philly roof deck is no coincidence. While boomer life has been largely suburban, Gen Xers and Millennials prefer the city. And Philadelphia is starting to look noticeably different because of our choices.
“I’m 62, and I’ve been involved in Philly real estate my whole life,” notes Anthony Rimikis, senior vice president for urban development at Brandywine Realty Trust. “My generation, you got married and you bought a house in the suburbs. But in the elevator of my building last week, I heard two young people talking. By young, I mean late 20s, early 30s. And the guy said, ‘We put a bid on a house at 7th and Catharine.’ Thirty years ago, that never would have happened.”
Generation X, with its oldest members turning 46 this year, may just now be starting to fill leadership roles in the city, but our rising consumer power is already changing the Philadelphia streetscape. Bart Blatstein might be a boomer, but he sure as hell didn’t build the Piazza in Northern Liberties for boomers.