Thursday, October 10, 2013

Uptown for All

I appreciated this article by David Byrne of the “Talking Heads” (I put in quotes because does the Talking Heads still play?)= If the 1% stifles New York's creative talent, I'm out of here because I see the same thing happening in Chicago. There are very few affordable cities left in America for artists, both emerging and mid-career. (Though Byrne does acknowledge he is able to live in secure housing without being too worried about the cost.)

He writes about how many cities are thriving because of tourists. People who come and visit and then leave while residents struggle to live within the boundaries. Today many of the creators of a city’s creative energy are getting squeezed. Many are no longer able to afford or are re-thinking how much longer they can afford high rents.


Middle-class people can barely afford to live here anymore, so forget about emerging artists, musicians, actors, dancers, writers, journalists and small business people. Bit by bit, the resources that keep the city vibrant are being eliminated.



Gone are the days in NYC when Robert Maplethorp and Andy Warhol (The Factory) could afford a warehouse loft. Frank O’Hara and James Schuyler lived in coldwater flats where there was a shower in the kitchen! You had to pull a curtain around you for privacy and to keep the floor from getting soaked.


O’Hara and his buddies cut corners on housing and food, but always had money in their pocket for the movies, for drinks at the Cedar Tavern. They went so frequently to the symphony and the ballet that they followed certain conductors or the career of certain dancers. (They might have slept with some of these dancers too.)


The hub of energy that is generated by a core group of artists can become historic, a legacy. They eventually get a plaque on the front of the building that is now a multi-million dollar condo.


Byrne asks: Can New York change its trajectory a little bit, become more inclusive and financially egalitarian?

 Is there room for all? The alderman of the ward I live in here in Chicago is dead set on seeing property rates go up. For the longest time Uptown has been a landing place for all kinds of people, one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the whole city. That is changing. Especially with real estate going up and rentals going condo. The few studios and SROs (single-room occupancy) left are being bought up by a group of investors called Flats. They just bought the Lawrence House with the hopes of converting a building that once housed seniors and people with disabilities to hipster studios for people willing to shell out $800 ("starting at") per month. The building will be wired for WiFi! There will be a “bike-sharing” program out front. (I’ve written earlier about Divvy bikes.)

Great! I love hipsters, but this doesn’t always equate into arty. Most artists I know are barely making it. I’m afraid that in ten-year’s time Uptown is going to look like other trendy neighborhoods where the life has been wrung out of it. Replaced by boutiques! Fancy tea shops! Places to buy granite tile and flooring!


In an article by Will Doig at the best places these days for artists to move to are Detroit and Cleveland where city services are so stretched that artists are able to burrow in and create enclaves without a lot of bureaucratic oversight. Without “planning.” Without designating a “district.”

Hopefully, the powers that be will let Uptown BE Uptown, in all its colors, economic classes, and unconformity.


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