Monday, October 7, 2013

What Made Brooklyn Emerge Makes David Byrne Want to Leave

The economic, social, and infrastructure policies in New York City under Mayor Bloomberg (which are being copied by Chicago's Rahm Emanuel among other U.S. mayors), have caused the city - particularly Brooklyn - to flourish:
1. Public safety. By enhancing public safety across the city, said Steel, New York became a bigger place, with Brooklyn neighborhoods once considered dicey now very livable. 
2. Real estate development. Steel pointed to investments made in Dumbo "which basically re-birthed it." (Oddly enough, as The New York Times recently pointed out, the original name "Dumbo" was conceived in the 1970s by a group of artists hoping to deter development.) 
3. Alternative transportation. Expansive as New York's subway is, it still doesn't do a great job reaching the outer boroughs. But an expanded ferry service and the Citi Bike program have made it possible to access a neighborhood like Dumbo in a sustainable way even without a subway line nearby. 
4. Quality of life. By this Steel meant amenities as basic as urban parks — a type of lifestyle, he says, that "competes with Portland, Seattle, and Boulder."
However, Talking Heads mastermind David Byrne points out that these same factors are preventing new artists from emerging in the city:
This real estate situation—a topic New Yorkers love to complain about over dinner—doesn’t help the future health of the city. If young, emerging talent of all types can’t find a foothold in this city, then it will be a city closer to Hong Kong or Abu Dhabi than to the rich fertile place it has historically been. Those places might have museums, but they don’t have culture. Ugh. If New York goes there—more than it already has—I’m leaving.
While I agree with much of what he writes, Byrne glosses over a couple things.

His assertion that the city's elite doesn't patronize art ignores Bloomberg's own vast philanthropic efforts - though the future of his NYC-centric cultural funding is in question.

Furthermore, with our culture now driven increasingly by internet content consumption, the amount of money people of any income bracket are willing to spend on the work of artists, musicians, and writers has dwindled through the filters of streaming services, BitTorrent, and YouTube. This ease of cultural distribution also creates a glut of individuals competing for recognition in these fields amid a society increasingly primed for short-term attention spans.

(As someone who takes frequent breaks from this blog to write and play music in Chicago, I can assure you this isn't solely an NYC problem.)

It's worth noting how the current "art-for-the-sake-of-art" losers of the creative class paved the way for the current winners in NYC - the tech/entrepreneurial sector:
Residents say few artists live here now, but the area continues to attract a creative, if more entrepreneurial, class. And a concentration of Internet and technology firms has led the city to designate the area as one leg of a Brooklyn “Tech Triangle.”
And if San Francisco start-up culture is any indication, the artist-patron relationship paradigm has been altered beyond anything Byrne could imagine:
People come to the Sub to be in the swing of things, and the things in which they’re swinging tend to reflect a blend of business and small-scale creative art. At least once a month, the Sub puts on an event to bring together creative and influential people. Possibly there’s a concert or recording session by a musician passing through town (Hwin has co-hosted Twin Shadow and Grimes at the Sub), or maybe the residents will drop their big projection screen and run ned Night (an evening of ted-ish colloquy). The events nurture some odd intersections. For instance, the Sub’s walls are decorated with works by Hwin’s friends, and sometimes a Silicon Valley multimillionaire stopping by for a party will buy something for an honorable sum. Hwin calls intersections like these “pushing culture forward."
Though, with the exception of the multimillionaires, that does sound familiar:


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