Astro Turf Tests the Limits of Subjectivity
The specter of decorative astro turf haunts the planter boxes, patios, and Rose All Day
wall hangings of restaurants that boldly ask, what if every city was Seattle?
What if? More and more restaurants would take the shape of those frequented by the tech bro and Christian girl autumn ilk. It’s easy to picture the platitudes scrawled in pink LED script, the astro turf trimmed flatscreens showing Sports Network, and the Brazilian blowouts sweeping up pieces of gold leaf garnish as guests lean forward in rapt conversation.
It’s easy to shit talk an aesthetic so easily placed, yet apparently inappreciable to those whom it describes; so obviously garish, yet apparently irresistible to the walk-ins circling the block on a Saturday night. Apparently it’s many people’s greatest desire to eat dinner on a soccer field, but only if the Billboard hot 100 is playing louder than anyone can speak and every appetizer drags burrata to hell and back. I should let people live their lives, but decorative astro turf tests the limits of subjectivity. What does it mean, though, to die on a hill so small?
It contains something of the high brow, middle class indignation at being made to witness the taste of stupid people with more money and to suffer the mainstream taste of stupid people with the same amount. There’s an impulse to find righteousness where there exists none.
Sometimes I think, if I made half as much money as someone selling their soul in finance or tech, I’d eat at the Michelin starred likes of Alinea, but these motherfuckers can’t get enough of their 24 karat ice cream. Somehow I’ve made overpriced ice cream, not soul selling, the greater sin. Other times I think, fuck these suburban transplants flocking to the derivative hellscape Fulton Market has become, when that area wouldn’t have transformed from a meat packing district into what it is today without the smattering of restaurants where my parents worked when I was young, among the first to open there. And the astro turf-free, distinctive, more reasonably priced restaurants I was lucky enough to enjoy in neighborhoods like Logan Square and Pilsen emerged from the same process of gentrification, I just wasn’t taught to call it that when I approved of the outcome.
I know I’m not alone in letting my petty, self-congratulatory judgments obscure the violence of shifting urban landscapes. As a case in point, let’s finally land on an answer to the question, what if every city was Seattle?
To begin, census data would show that in 50% of districts household incomes rose precipitously since 2000, the same districts where property values rose by an average of 47% between 2000 and 2013. The headquarters of tech giants like Amazon would employ a small cohort of the working poor as custodians in their offices, where they would be expected to clean up after dogs brought to work by corporate employees as one of the novelty perks that’s come to be expected of the industry. While restaurateurs order yards of astro turf to arrive in time for opening night, food insecurity among the working poor would rise from the average 11% in cities nationwide to 15%.
Perhaps the ubiquity of astro turf in restaurants across the country, if not the short distance between 11 and 15% reveal this to be less a question of what if than of when.
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