The Celebrity Shortage

If your community doesn't already have enough worries, here's one: You may be up against a celebrity gap. This is a particular problem for charities, which use movie stars, pop singers, athletic heroes, former presidents and big-time authors to draw donors to their fund-raising events. Clearly this isn't a problem in places such as Los Angeles or New York.
by | April 2003

If your community doesn't already have enough worries, here's one: You may be up against a celebrity gap. This is a particular problem for charities, which use movie stars, pop singers, athletic heroes, former presidents and big-time authors to draw donors to their fund-raising events. Clearly this isn't a problem in places such as Los Angeles or New York. As the Los Angeles Times noted recently, "there are parts of California where you can't swing a paparazzo without hitting someone famous." But San Francisco is different. There are celebrities in the Bay Area, of course, including actors Robin Williams, Sharon Stone and Sean Penn, movie directors George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, rock stars Huey Lewis and Neil Young, and authors Danielle Steel and Amy Tan. But they're so besieged with requests, they can't come close to filling the demand. Jokes Williams, "It's like you're in these benefit SWAT teams. There's something every night. Is it going to be 'Save the Shrimp' or 'A Toupee Is a Terrible Thing to Waste'?" And by comparison with other cities, San Francisco is crawling with famous people. Most big cities are more like Boston, which suffers from a severe celebrity shortage. Said one longtime PR executive, "Ten years ago, when [the TV show] "Spencer for Hire" was being shot here, the late Robert Urich was really the only movie star we had living in Boston, and every charity in the city descended on him. He was just inundated. After he left, I read an interview with him where he said he just hated Boston because nobody would leave him alone. Alas, poor Urich. Now it's sports celebrities and the Aerosmith guys, when they're around. Even the local news anchors are a big deal here."

GOOD MORNING, AMERICA

Roll out of bed tomorrow at 5 a.m. and drive around your city. Notice anything odd? How about the fact that the Starbucks and YMCAs are open--and full of people--and that traffic is already knotting on the freeway. Turn on the TV at home and you'll notice that the local news starts at 5. Go out a little later and you'll find newspapers on the driveways at 5:30, hair salons open at 5:45, and day care centers accepting children at 6:30. Fast-forward to the evening and you'll find in New York that Broadway shows open at 7 on Tuesday evenings rather than 8, and restaurants that once were open on weeknights until 1:30 a.m. now close at 11:30. What's going on? As a nation, we're getting up earlier and going to bed by 10. About 40 percent of men and 30 percent of women now wake before 6 a.m., double the percentage of 30 years ago. "The last time so much of the population awoke so early, some experts speculate, was the farming era of the 1800s, and then mainly in the summer months," the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote recently. Why are we getting up so early? We work harder and longer than previous generations, and families are pushing activities such as doing housework, running errands and exercising at the health club into the early morning hours. But sprawl plays a role, too. People get up early to beat the traffic. It isn't working, though. In 1982, the Philadelphia area's morning and evening rush hours lasted four hours. Now they're seven hours. "We start to see volume on roadways pick up at 5 a.m.," said one official with a traffic reporting service. Footnote: In 1981, a TV station introduced Philadelphia's first early morning news show, at 6:30 a.m. "Everybody said nobody would watch," a station official remembers. Today, four TV stations have newscasts starting at 5 a.m. and another has a show starting at 5:30 a.m.

HOW WE LOST THE WAR ON SPRAWL

One simple solution to the problem of sprawl is to require that every new home be built on, say, five or 10 acres of land. Surely that should be enough to force even the most determined homebuilder back to the city, right? Wrong, says the Washington Post, which has studied the effects of land-use restrictions in suburban Washington, D.C. Since 1980, the paper reports, one county after another in Maryland and Virginia has designated large areas as "rural reserves," with requirements that houses be situated on five to 25 acres of land. Result: Sprawl has jumped over these places, causing long commutes to become marathon treks. Today, people drive to D.C. from as far away as West Virginia. Worse, the "protected" land is being developed anyway. Rather than townhouses or cul-de-sacs, the rural reserves have $700,000 "mini-estates." Says one high-tech worker who commutes from West Virginia, "We laugh because we have to drive by the snobs just to get to work. These houses are on 10-acre or 20-acre lots. Who can afford that?" If this simple-minded approach to curbing sprawl doesn't work, surely the counties are eager to drop the restrictions, right? Wrong again. True, the rural-reserve approach is a disaster for the region, but it can be quite successful for individual counties. That's because by welcoming the mini-estates and sending the townhouses even farther out, a county can get just the development it wants-- fashionable, expensive and without too many kids for the local schools to educate.

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