And yet, as Gratz sees it, Jacobs’s message is today widely misinterpreted as favoring an anti-growth and anti-change agenda; if they could, her critics say, preservationists would embalm the city. But Gratz argues that Jacobs’s ideas were never meant as narrow prescriptions of architectural type, or to impede new development unconditionally. She suggests that Jacobs’s teachings are less specific design formulasthan general guidelines. They encourage the development of preexisting communities and industries, mixed uses, complexity, mutually reliant businesses, and, above all, a respect for social and historical context.
After returning from the whirlwind that was the CHRA’s Annual Congress (with keynote speaker Richard Florida to boot) and DJ-ing at Urbana – a charity gala put on by a local housing developer to end homelessness in Ottawa – my mind is abuzz with housing issues. While at the congress, we took a tour of Regent Park’s redevelopment and, as with any redevelopment project, there was much talk/concern about gentrification with respect to community renewal.
Meanwhile, on the internet, some blogs were also abuzz with housing issues related to gentrification. From the Clyde-Fitch Report I fished out this Wall Street Journal article about the much-discussed and debated role of artists in community renewal and the gentrification process:
Artists have long been leaders of an urban vanguard that colonizes blighted areas. Now, the current housing crisis has created a new class of urban pioneer. Nationwide, home foreclosure proceedings increased 81% in 2008 from the previous year, rising to 2.3 million, according to California-based foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac. Homes in hard-hit cities such as Detroit and Cleveland are selling for as little as $1.
Drawn by available spaces and cheap rents, artists are filling in some of the neighborhoods being emptied by foreclosures. City officials and community groups seeking ways to stop the rash of vacancies are offering them incentives to move in, from low rents and mortgages to creative control over renovation projects.
But looking at the artists profiled in the WSJ piece, I couldn’t help but notice – they all seem to be, for lack of a better term, white hipsters doing, again, for lack of a better term, white hipster art. I’m forced to wonder: what do we really mean when talking about artists? What are we valuing?
Here’s another perspective on gentrification from the always sublime blog Model Minority:
Gentrification has very little to do with white hipsters moving into the ‘hood and everything to do with process of people who earn higher incomes moving into neighborhoods where folks reside who are earning comparatively lower incomes.
A more sustainable, honest and comprehensive conversation about gentrification would involve a discussion of the income of the gentrifiers and not just the race of the gentrifiers.
And that’s what the WSJ piece seemed to elucidate implicitly – beyond race or even occupation, the artists valued in the gentrification discourse seem to be more important as an economic entity than as a creative one. Because these blighted areas like the Bronx or Detroit actually generate some of the greatest abundances of high-potency art and artists in the world. Hiphop culture and that entire industry emerged from the 1973 Bronx, and artists are still coming out of the BX at high rates. Detroit breeds some of the world’s best street artists with a lopsided ratio of good music emerging from the 313. What is the difference between them and the museum curator who buys the $100 house down the street? Only that the street artist from the Bronx or the D are actually from the area and are often creating from a position of poverty it seems.
So are the artists we refer to in the gentrification and renewal discourse really more of an economic model – liberal people with fixer-upper money, within a limited margin? Why doesn’t it seem that local street artists who are embedded in the community, often telling the story of the community, don’t have the same renewal/gentrifying value as the sculptor or the graphic designer who move in? And how can we create that value?
And now, as always, some topical music. Video Style:
One of the less talked about consequences of the back-to-the-city movement is that the cities are losing their urban character and becoming more like the suburbs. Gentrification not only brings more affluent people; as rents and property values rise, neighborhood stores and local restaurants give way to luxury brands and chains. It also means people want more space and bigger houses. And according to this report on New York City (h/t: Ian Swain, via Streetsblog), it also means people bringing the primary mode of suburban transportation – the car – into the city. It finds that residents of new developments are 40 to 50 percent more likely to own cars than current residents of the city. And you thought traffic was bad now. In what ways will this change the character of urban living itself?
It isn’t possible to quantify the extent to which society and culture are indebted to Bohemia. In every age in every successful country, it has been important that at least a small part of the cityscape is not dominated by bankers, developers, chain stores, generic restaurants, and railway terminals. This little quarter should instead be the preserve of—in no special order—insomniacs and restaurants and bars that never close; bibliophiles and the little stores and stalls that cater to them; alcoholics and addicts and deviants and the proprietors who understand them; aspirant painters and musicians and the modest studios that can accommodate them; ladies of easy virtue and the men who require them; misfits and poets from foreign shores and exiles from remote and cruel dictatorships. Though it should be no disadvantage to be young in such a quartier, the atmosphere should not by any means discourage the veteran. It was Jean-Paul Sartre who to his last days lent the patina to the Saint-Germain district of Paris, just as it is Lawrence Ferlinghetti, last of the Beats, who by continuing to operate his City Lights bookstore in San Francisco’s North Beach still gives continuity with the past …
Those who don’t live in such threatened districts nonetheless have a stake in this quarrel and some skin in this game, because on the day when everywhere looks like everywhere else we shall all be very much impoverished, and not only that but—more impoverishingly still—we will be unable to express or even understand or depict what we have lost.
The rest is here (h/t: Brian Knudsen). Photo from Vanity Fair.
Whenever these issues come up, I recall what Jane Jacobs once said to me: “When a place gets boring, even the rich people leave.”