I’ve been working SOHO for the past 6 weeks; simultaneously I’ve lived in three different neighborhoods, from the Lower Eastside, to Nolita, and then the East Village.
I’ve noticed a stark contrast between these neighborhoods. Beyond their obvious geographic differences, as one walks along Houston past Broadway, the east side of Manhattan becomes progressively less scattered with Hollisters, Apple Stores, and Victoria’s Secrets, and more littered with bags of opened trash, battered storefront’s, and uneven stoops.
There’s an even starker difference in the amount of tourists and minorities represent on either side of the island.
Despite the large differences between the amounts of trendy shops, there’s an interestingly similar increase in housing costs that has been occurring since the 1980’s. Considering the historic presence of art in SOHO in LES I’ve been interested to see how art institutions have responded, reacted, and perhaps even participated in the gentrification of lower Manhattan.
The New York Times archive tells the story of gentrification and rising housing prices since the early 1980’s. A 1983 article marking the rising prices of housing rent depicts minorities and artists on the losing end, but with an interesting divide pitting non-artists against the artists seeking space to create.
This is an interesting conundrum between these two types of people, with those, creative types supposedly creating more economic opportunity for entire neighborhoods of people, yet similarly being blamed for the rise in gentrified neighborhoods and causing displacement. The Warhol Economy by Elizabeth Currid furthermore describes a phenomenon where people with creative occupations provide wonderful opportunities for the rest of society as creative change makers pursue their interests through their careers, and thus create services, jobs, and culture for other citizens to partake in and enjoy.
Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class (Revisted), dubs these types of people members of the Creative Class. Florida describes how the ethos of the Creative Class is built on discipline and focus, as creative potential does not mean the same as actually harnessing creativity and doing something with it. He suggests, this group of people is hardly homogenous.
“Creative people come in many different forms. Some are mercurial and intuitive in their work habits, others methodical. Some prefer to channel their energies into big radical ideas… some are at their best when they work in groups, others like nothing better than to be left alone.”
This says a lot about how creative people are different from one another, yet, however sunny the face value of the Creative Class is, even within this group of people there are vast inequalities. The Creative Class is described as a group that inherently favors openness and diversity, but to some degree it is a diversity of elites with membership limited to highly educated, creative people.
Take a look at these facts and statistics I’ve picked across the first three chapters of “The Creative Class.”
- Women make up a majority of the Creative Class accounting for 52 percent of its members. A greater percentage of women hold Creative Class jobs (37.1%) than men (32.6%). Creative Class men earn about 40% more than women–$82,009 versus $48,077—a gap of nearly $35,000.
- More than 50% of Silicon Valley—an area supposedly dominated by the Creative Class–is foreign born and made up of less than 5% women.
- African Americans are underrepresented in Creative Class occupations and make nearly $10,000 less than their white peers, even when controlling for education, skill, and work effort.
As I finish up my internship, continue to read The Rise of the Creative Class, and ponder the involvement of artists and creative types’ roles in inequality, these are important stats to note. What I’d like to examine and question further is whether artists and creative can really be fully blamed for these issues; in my opinion, the short answer is no. There certainly must be a way to balance out the arts so as to prevent it from being the cause of gentrification, but this to me seems more of an implementation issue behind the motives and controls of institutions that promote the arts. Are these motives a matter of enriching the community or generating more money? Is it fair to paint these values as a dichotomy?
While the arts may not be a high paying job for the artist, it seems that it still is an important gear in keeping the economy moving. At first glance, this to me seems to be an issue between objectifying the arts and allowing artists to take control of what they do best—interact with and tell the stories of a community.