David Byrne*1 “If the 1% stifles New York's creative talent, I'm out of here” http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/oct/07/new-york-1percent-stifles-creative-talent
Work*2 aside, we come to New York for the possibility of interaction and inspiration. Sometimes, that possibility of serendipitous encounters – and I don't mean in the meat market – is the principal lure. If one were to vote based on criteria like comfort or economic security, then one wonders why anyone would ever vote for New York at all over Copenhagen, Stockholm or some other less antagonistic city that offers practical amenities like affordable healthcare, free universities, free museums, common spaces and, yes, bike lanes. But why can't one have both – the invigorating energy and the civic, intelligent humanism?
Maybe those Scandinavian cities do, in fact, have both, but New York has something else to offer, thanks to successive waves of immigrants that have shaped the city. Arriving from overseas, one is immediately struck by the multi-ethnic makeup of New York. Other cities might be cleaner, more efficient or comfortable, but New York is funky, in the original sense of the word – New York smells like sex.
Immigrants to New York have contributed to the city's vibrancy decade after decade. In some cities around the world, immigrants are relegated to being a worker class, or a guest-worker class; they're not invited to the civic table. New York has generally been more welcoming, though people of color have never been invited to the table to the same extent as European immigrants.
Some folks believe that hardship breeds artistic creativity. I don't buy it. One can put up with poverty for a while when one is young, but it will inevitably wear a person down. I don't romanticize the bad old days. I find the drop in crime over the last couple of decades refreshing. Manhattan and Brooklyn, those vibrant playgrounds, are way less scary than they were when I moved here. I have no illusions that there was a connection between that city on its knees and a flourishing of creativity; I don't believe that crime, danger and poverty make for good art. That's bullshit. But I also don't believe that the drop in crime means the city has to be more exclusively for those who have money. Increases in the quality of life should be for all, not just a few.
The city is a body and a mind – a physical structure as well as a repository of ideas and information. Knowledge and creativity are resources. If the physical (and financial) parts are functional, then the flow of ideas, creativity and information are facilitated. The city is a fountain that never stops: it generates its energy from the human interactions that take place in it. Unfortunately, we're getting to a point where many of New York's citizens have been excluded from this equation for too long. The physical part of our city – the body – has been improved immeasurably. I'm a huge supporter of the bike lanes and the bikeshare program, the new public plazas, the waterfront parks and the functional public transportation system*3. But the cultural part of the city – the mind – has been usurped by the top 1%.
What, then, is the future of New York, or really of any number of big urban centers, in this new Gilded Age? Does culture have a role to play? If we look at the city as it is now, then we would have to say that it looks a lot like the divided city that presumptive mayor Bill de Blasio has been harping about: most of Manhattan and many parts of Brooklyn are virtual walled communities, pleasure domes for the rich (which, full disclosure, includes me), and aside from those of us who managed years ago to find our niche and some means of income, there is no room for fresh creative types. Middle-class people can barely afford to live here anymore, so forget about emerging artists, musicians, actors, dancers, writers, journalists and small business people. Bit by bit, the resources that keep the city vibrant are being eliminated.
This city doesn't make things anymore. Creativity, of all kinds, is the resource we have to draw on as a city and a country in order to survive. In the recent past, before the 2008 crash, the best and the brightest were lured into the world of finance. Many a bright kid graduating from university knew that they could become fairly wealthy almost instantly if they found employment at a hedge fund or some similar institution. But before the financial sector came to dominate the world, they might have made things: in publishing, manufacturing, television, fashion, you name it. As in many other countries, the lure of easy bucks hoovered this talent and intelligence up – and made it difficult for those other kinds of businesses to attract any of the top talent.
A culture of arrogance, hubris and winner-take-all was established. It wasn't cool to be poor or struggling. The bully was celebrated and cheered. The talent pool became a limited resource for any industry, except Wall Street. I'm not talking about artists, writers, filmmakers and musicians – they weren't exactly on a trajectory toward Wall Street anyway – but any businesses that might have employed creative individuals were having difficulties surviving, and naturally, the arty types had a hard time finding employment, too.
もたもたしているうちに、デヴィッド・バーンの新しい寄稿”David Byrne: 'The internet will suck all creative content out of the world'”*4が出てしまった。
One would expect that the 1% would have a vested interest in keeping the civic body healthy at least – that they'd want green parks, museums and symphony halls for themselves and their friends, if not everyone. Those, indeed, are institutions to which they habitually contribute. But it's like funding your own clubhouse. It doesn't exactly do much for the rest of us or for the general health of the city. At least, we might sigh, they do that, as they don't pay taxes – that we know.
Many of the wealthy don't even live here. In the neighborhood where I live (near the art galleries in Chelsea), I can see three large condos from my window that are pretty much empty all the time. What the fuck!? Apparently, rich folks buy the apartments, but might only stay in them a few weeks out of a year. So why should they have an incentive to maintain or improve the general health of the city? They're never here.
*1:http://www.davidbyrne.com/ See also http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20060810/1155177382 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20070831/1188527985 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20090330/1238350475 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20090824/1251056271 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20110922/1316629894 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20080809/1218304271 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20090309/1236622473 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20090917/1253211853 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20110910/1315671133 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20111012/1318389065
*2:Ipsos-Moriの最近の世界都市人気調査で、紐育が綜合１位、ビジネスの場として１位を獲得したものの、生活の場としては５位に終わったことを踏まえる。次のセンテンスに出てくるvoteという動詞もその関連。See http://www.ipsos-mori.com/_assets/topcity/index.html http://www.ipsos-na.com/news-polls/pressrelease.aspx?id=6245