In New York, gentrification has often occurred due to creative professionals and artists moving into neighborhoods that have been neglected by real estate interests and making them attractive due to their sweat investments and cultural programming of the area. Usually this results in more affluent populations moving in and displacing the long-time residents. This happens because poorer residents cannot compete with richer newcomers for rents, or because long-time residents with less economic resources sell their properties due to a lack of resources to improve or redevelop the properties themselves. Something that doesn’t get talked about as much is that gentrification also results in many of the artists themselves being quickly displaced.
Many neighborhood organizations and the City make efforts provide affordable housing for those who need it, but there aren’t many groups or housing programs that address the unique needs of artists who often require large work spaces and tolerant and supportive neighbors. This article was interesting in that it discusses the housing needs of artists and how some groups have tried to provide more long-term housing options for them. The New York Times also reported in February that a similar project has received some tax incentives in East Harlem. These types of initiatives had been more common in the mid-twentieth century and it is nice to see this issue being talked about again.
One thing to note is that the reason I was always told that there were not more housing programs designed specifically for artists was that people thought it was wasteful to spend resources on people who could just go get a regular job. The comments on the Gothamist article certainly show that this sentiment still exists. This is shortsighted and does not account for the benefit all citizens derive from a strong local arts scene:
- Artists are often desirable for nearby businesses, even non-retail businesses (DUMBO for instance, has a strong tech industry because firms located there to be near artistic amenities and the creative environment, which attracts better employees and hopefully spurs creative thinking and new innovations from the more traditional 9 to 5ers)
- Local artisans provide goods and entertainment and the money stays in the community (people choosing to go to a local theater or see a local band, over a movie or buying music from a big label means that their money is staying in the local economy and not going to Hollywood or wherever the external manufacturer of the entertainment may be located)
- Artists can generate ideas for goods or services that can grow to be export goods (which are kind of like the Holy Grail of economic development)
- Cities are often desirable places to live and work because of the local artists contributions. (So even if they don’t make money like a banker does, people, even bankers, want to live where there are interesting things going on, beautiful things to look at, and generally cool stuff to do, i.e. they want to live where artists are, not where bankers are)
- Just because artists might not be making a ton of steady income, it does not mean that what they do is without value. Quantifying the economic benefits (that we all share indirectly) from having local artists is difficult, but this doesn’t mean that value doesn’t exist and that it isn’t worth giving them a few options to find affordable homes.