Friday, April 12, 2013

The Art Canard: artists bring gentrification, not!

Time to put to rest the tired complaint that artists gentrify neighborhoods.

In the 1950's and '60's, lots of artists moved into the Bowery. Many began to move out in the '70's and '80's, and most were gone by the 1990's. From the 1950's to the 1990's the Bowery steadily declined. Even the so-called Bowery renaissance (CBGB's, Amato Opera and the Bowery Lane Theater were active, but all around Bowery & Bond) had no gentrifying effect on the Bowery overall. When gentrification began when the Chystie Avalon opened in 2005, most of the artists had long been gone. In other words, there was no relation between the presence of artists and gentrification. Those are just the facts.

Also in the 1950's artists moved into the LES north of Houston, what's now called the East Village. Did the neighborhood gentrify? No, it declined. It declined for four decades. When did the neighborhood gentrify? When the entire city began to revive in the late '80's and especially through the Clinton boom.

Does it take forty years before artists gentrify a neighborhood? The presence of artists preceded gentrification in Williamsburg by about a decade. But notice that gentrification in Williamsburg began around the same time as the gentrification of the EV. And it sped up radically after it was rezoned under Bloomberg.

It empirical facts show unambiguously that artists have no effect on gentrification whatsoever. Gentrification responds to upswings in the economy and administrative efforts to capitalize on it. The renovation of Tompkins Square Park -- an administrative decision -- began the gentrification of the EV in earnest. The construction of the Chrystie Avalon, another administrative effort, ironically intended to bring affordable housing, gave gentrification its first entree into the Bowery, which had until then been considered an unredeemable skid row.

The role of capital accounts for the driving pressure of gentrification. Administrative decisions are the facilitator. It is a mistake to suppose that gentrification is inevitable. If the administration promoted development vigorously away from low-income neighborhoods, those neighborhoods might have a chance. Instead, DCP plans exactly the opposite. It seeks to spread gentrification through zoning throughout the city. Gentrification raises revenue, human beings be damned.

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