The rise of the Urban Tribe

“Urban Tribe” is a growing social trend among young unmarried persons in larger cities.

Just like most of my Saturday nights, it all started with a box of Franzia. It was Christmas break, and my close friends and I had spent the better part of a month drinking cheap booze, dancing in my living room and watching crappy television until five in the morning. Though it had long been established that we were all good friends, and that in some way or another we would usually spend most of the weekend together, it wasn’t until my friend Dan tagged us “The Commune” that somehow our circle took on a whole new meaning.

Technically it meant nothing. We didn’t have any rules or secret handshakes, and the only roles we fulfilled were the ones we had always occupied within our individual friendships. Even though Dan had meant it jokingly (after all, Dawson’s Creek marathons should never be reasons for group affiliation), the name stuck, and gradually the idea of a collective identity became another way in which our group defined ourselves as individuals.

This, apparently, is nothing new for my generation. Admittedly, social groupings are natural formations, and yet, “The Commune” seemed unique. Perhaps it was that for the first time in my life, I had found a varied, intensely stimulating group of people with whom I not only shared stories, breakfast, woes and adventures, but who formed what could only be considered a pseudo-family, albeit one that didn’t differentiate between parent and friend and, at times, therapist.

While I knew I probably wasn’t the only one cultivating this support infrastructure in my life, it wasn’t until I came upon an article by Ethan Watters in the New York Times Magazine that described the “Urban Tribe” – a growing social trend among young unmarried persons in larger cities – that I realized not only how full-blown the concept really is, but also how it wasn’t just indicative of myself or my friends, but my generation as a whole. As he states, “Often in larger cities, the enormous size and complexity of the society creates a sense of alienation and/or isolation on the level of the individual. This can lead to the formation of urban tribes, in which people unite behind common interests to smaller-scale communities.”

While it’s hard to expand on this in just one column, what I want to call attention to is just how inspiring and revolutionary I think this phenomenon really is. In a time when I think there can be – and is – a lot to mourn about the overall ideology of my generation (see previous column), there are also rising movements such as this that give me hope – not only for myself, but for what we can create for ourselves that reflects who we are and who we want to become, as opposed to those traditions handed down to us from older generations.

The more I think about it, the more it seems that our age group is, in many regards, an utterly new force to be reckoned with, in that our freedom, power and expression is just beginning to manifest itself in ways that will undoubtedly have radical and lasting effects. And, if not that, then at least you can blame all your debauchery on the rest of your Urban Tribe: “‘The Commune’ made me do it.”

Kat Hargreaves welcomes comments at [email protected]