Defining Street Culture?

It’s easy in conversations about urban culture and even youth culture to lump in the concept of “street culture” as an overlapping component. The topic I am currently pondering is where, exactly, those overlaps exist.

When I think about urbanization and urban culture, a lot of definitions come to mind:  fast pace, limited space, multicultural dynamics in the developed world as well as multi-class dynamics on a global scale.  I also think about the conflicts of economics versus tradition in the developing / emerging third world.  And then there is health and wellness dynamics as well as a high concentration of “creative class” workers.

When I think about youth culture in an urban context, many of the topics I have discussed before come to mind:  especially with regard to emerging markets and the economics / tradition topic I just mentioned.  And the most pressing question is how much of “street” culture in urban areas is synonymous with youth culture?

My hypotheses are that street culture is about accessibility:  of recreation, art, music, etc. to those who either have less means or follow a more non-traditional economic career-path trajectory (artists, entertainment professionals?).  And to that end, it would stand to reason that non-organized sports like basketball or soccer fall in that space and overlap with youth culture.  As would “street art” and independent music, etc.  But is there mutual exclusivity there than I am missing.  For example, is there a racial / ethnic component that exists in the developed world that doesn’t in other global cultural venues?
Would love a POV from my global audience on how they see the delineations between urban, street and youth culture…based on your observations, experiences or straight-up knowledge.

I think it’s an interesting point to ponder…as I know that when I was a “youth” I identified very strongly with some street culture but not necessarily all of it.  But my lived experience growing up in the suburbs in the U.S. is likely a bit skewed and I am not narcissistic enough to presume my experience is the sum total of the world’s lived reality.  I guess anthropology is likely a good profession for me in that context.

And like i always say, context is everything.


3 thoughts on “Defining Street Culture?

  1. Being born and raised in NYC I would say I had my fair share of exposure to “street” culture. Honestly in areas considered more urban, traditional education is not high on the to do list and to youth standard education isn’t considered stimulating enough to hold their attention (that could be said everywhere else too). I feel the gravitation to art and sports is a positive reaction to wanting to do something they feel is more worth their time. Or at least that was the reason for me.

  2. When I think about street culture, the first thing that comes to mind is not the specifics of street art, sports, or music, but the tie that binds all three and serves as a barrier to entry for those not immersed in the lifestyle: Language, and specifically current knowledge of the fluid and ever changing street vernacular. This knowledge of the language is not centered around just a handful of words or phrases that marketers can trot out and make themselves look silly in tv ads, and its also not about being the first to be up on the latest new word, but rather a natural acquisition of the street language and coding coming from living that lifestyle, which has come to extend far beyond its origins in black urban centers, and has become so embedded in the culture at large that its no longer possible to draw distinctions based on racial or urban / suburban or any traditional demographic delineations.

    I spent the summer in ad school in New York, and on multiple occasions was called out for my natural inclination to speak in this manner. She is not of the culture, and remarked to me that “She always thinks im about to start rapping any minute.” Looking past the weighty ignorance of the implications of this comment, it seems its more a reflection of cadence and tone than word choice. I think the language is understood across all three overlapping subsets you mentioned in regard to urban,street, and youth, and is increasingly prevalent across all social strata in the American society. Id be interested to hear others thoughts on the subject.

    1. Really appreciate the thoughtful dialogue! Indeed vernacular and the ability to rapidly become conversant in the language if street culture is what earns denizens their “street cred” and often what turns brands into “posers”. It’s a slippery slope that needs to be artfully managed.

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