Art & Gentrification: The Rise of The Creative City

As stated by Atkinson and Easthope, ‘creativity and economic development have become a key feature of the theoretical and practice landscape of urban politics in the last decade’ (2007).
In an age of globalisation, where the population is losing the sense of locality, shared places and identity, the importance of including creativity into city policy arises (Landry, 2000). The growth of the creative economy has lead countries to invest in their urban planning strategies to redesign cities for the new market trend.

‘With the move towards the information and conceptual age, the focus has turned towards attracting particular types of people with specific skills and capabilities. As a result, many major metropolitan areas around the world are now more drawn to a developmental formula that combines a focus on the new economy, investment in cultural resources, and an attempt to create a vibrant sense of place’ (Atkinson and Easthope, 2007).

The creative city appears thus as a cluster for the creative class, made of artist, software designers as well as management and legal experts (Pratt, 2008). Grouped and defined by Richard Florida, the creative class has three characteristics: technology, talent and tolerance. The occupations mentioned above, from Florida’s point of view, are a part, in fact, of the new high-tech economy, are distinctive of creative talent and are represented by a tolerant and diverse lifestyle.

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Artwork, in the district of Elephant & Castle, is an example of the attempt of regenerating the area for attracting the new ‘creative class’. Made out of containers from the demolished Heygate Estate, the art hub aims, in disadvantage of the pre-existing communities, to bring a new social class to the district.

What’s interesting about this definition is the ‘exercise of place marketing’ that serves as an urban planning strategy. ‘Florida develops a line of argument concerning how to attract educated labour and, thereby attracting high-tech industries, and to achieve growth’ (Pratt, 2008). The problematic of such definition lays in the failure of considering the pre-existing conditions and communities of the cities. Although, the reality of the creative class is not necessarily based on a bohemian lifestyle, from which comes the need to design cities like large shopping centres or themes park. Artists today are, in fact, nothing but the ‘archetypal post-Fordist worker: never tied down for long, floating from one short-term project to the next, constantly thinking outside of the box, always on the lookout for new ideas, with no discernible split between “labour-time” and “leisure-time”; willing to carry the risk of a “creative” life on their own, rather than look to the state or a collective organisation for support. The line between “the artist” and that post-Fordist ideological hero, the entrepreneur, is so slim as to be virtually invisible’ (Bolton, 2013).

The attempt of developing new creative cities is determining a phenomenon of gentrification, which mainly arises where there is a lack of affordable housing. The paradox of the new economy is that if one hand it aspires to ‘create clean and safe spaces to encourage social and economic investments’; on the other it creates ‘a desire for gentrification and the supplanting of needy communities with high-income groups who might also facilitate the improvement of the physical fabric of the city’ (Atkinson and Easthope, 2007).unknown

Although, art is not the determining cause of gentrification. ‘Artists colonise cheap and dilapidated property, in time those seeking a ‘boho culture’ (Brooks 2001; Lloyd 2006) move in so as to be close to the artists. Of course, the key point for cultural entrepreneurs and artists is that as the art galleries and rich loft owners move in the artists are forced out due to rising prices (Shorthouse 2004).

Experts like Florida or Landry, while offering social and urban solutions to the new market demands (the growth of the creative industries), are leaving out the problem of gentrification, defining it as an unavoidable phenomenon for the pursuit of more ‘open and tolerant cities’ (Atkinson and Easthope, 2007). The outcome is that social and economic inequality are still being included in the new planning scheme. Instead of promoting, through urban planning, only one or a few groups of society, a more inclusive kind of design, where art becomes a mean of overcoming class and minorities struggle, ‘rather than a means of erasing it’ (Bolton, 2013) is the real challenge of the creative cities. Art should alleviate inequality instead of increase it in the name of the prosperity of the few.

Bibliography 

  • Atkinson, R. and Easthope, H. (2007). The Consequences of the Creative Class: The Pursuit of Creativity Strategies in Australia’s Cities. 1st ed. Australia: University of Tasmania.
  • Bolton, M. (2013). Is art to blame for gentrification?. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/30/art-blame-gentrification-peckham [Accessed 27 Oct. 2016].
  • Heathcote, E. (2014). Are creative people the key to city regeneration?. [online] Financial Times. Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/349f249c-c642-11e3-ba0e-00144feabdc0 [Accessed 27 Oct. 2016].
  • Inclusion by Design: Equality, Diversity and The Built Environment. (2008). 1st ed. London: Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment.
  • Kapur, J. (n.d.). Capital limits on creativity:  Neoliberalism and its uses of art. [online] Ejumpcut.org. Available at: http://ejumpcut.org/archive/jc53.2011/KapurCreativeIndus/index.html [Accessed 27 Oct. 2016].
  • Pratt, Andy C. (2008) Creative cities: the cultural industries and the creative class. Geografiska annaler: Series B – Human geography, 90 (2). pp. 107-117.DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0467.2008.00281.x
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