This Town Just Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us…Right?

On October 17th, 2006 the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations (Chaired by NYC Council Member Domenic M. Recchia) and the Committee on Economic Development (Chaired by NYC Council Member Thomas White Jr.) hosted an oversight hearing entitled “In Search of a Blueprint for a Cultural Community: Exploring the Creation of Cultural Development Districts in New York City.” Quoting from the official literature from the above-mentioned oversight hearing: The Committees will explore the possibility of developing cultural districts in order to address the space crisis facing NYC cultural organizations.
As refreshing, hopeful and debateably prescient a meeting as this was (and it was merely the sixth one in a series), there is still a problem with the lack of space in NYC.

I’ve often heard that developers who want to re-gentrify a particular neighborhood “bring in the artists” first with hopes that other prospective residents (presumably with fatter wallets) will follow. Don’t believe me? DUMBO is a prime example of this system – and how many of your friends lost their studios on the same block that haute-couture chocolate maker Jacques Torres now thrives? Further, another quote from the oversight hearing states: Raw commercial space in Long Island City, for instance, increased by 122 percent between 2000 and 2001. These rapidly increasing real estate prices have forced many artists and creative enterprises to abandon communities whose revivals they helped spark. This leads me to believe that the City understands our predicament. But the question still remains: what do we do? The literature from the oversight hearing mentions the creation of “cultural districts where tax incentives and other economic development programs could be targeted towards cultural organizations” and I believe they also discussed similar options to make residential real estate more affordable to artists.

Upon waking on December 1st, I found this article in Gothamist, which was linked to this article in the NYTimes, followed by a soundbite I overheard on NBC. With the recent sale of Stuy-town and now Starrett City and another development in East New York, I think we have cause to be concerned. As rents go up in Bushwick and Washington Heights, and I find myself invited to holiday parties at the Cortelyou stop and beyond, I can’t help but wonder – when are we all going to pick up our things and move to Phillie or Jersey City or Denver or Minneapolis or Barcelona if we haven’t already? And if we don’t want to move, how can we afford to stay here? I don’t know the answers. This is all further complicated by the fact that there are people that were here before we (the artists) moved in who are, quite arguably, in an even more dire situation that we are…and I also fully understand that it’s not so simple as dividing demographics into “before artists” and “after artists.” And really, the main issue is that hard-working, deserving people are losing their homes and businesses.

I’m trying to establish a link (perhaps without any sense of grace and aplomb) between the recent trend of selling off affordable housing and the decided lack of real estate for the arts. I’m sure I’ve missed a few steps, but I think the link is there because the main issue is that there just doesn’t seem to be enough space in this town for the all of us (which just might be some vast illusion conjured by the magi of real estate). I want to know what all of you think.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.