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What Role Do Artists Play In Gentrification

"After World War II, the U.S. federal government essentially created suburbs out of thin air by subsidizing the mortgages of millions of Americans. But the mortgages came with conditions. Houses had to be single-family, and the mortgage owners in many cases had to be white: The federal government would draw maps of cities with red lines around neighborhoods with too many people of color to be eligible for mortgages. This process came to be known as redlining."

"Redlining not only depressed the economies of inner cities, it created an entirely new kind of people in the suburbs—the white middle and upper-middle classes. For the first time in American history, the majority of white people were living largely privatized lives in single-family homes, without many community spaces or diversity, a lifestyle that reinforced the ideal of the nuclear family, with a stay-at-home mom and a working father. When the children of that economic and cultural experiment we now call “white flight” looked around, and decided they didn’t like what they saw, they began moving back to cities. In the 1970s, New York, San Francisco, and every other major urban center began experiencing an influx of a new kind of white person—one raised with the aesthetic, economic, and spatial values of the suburbs."

“Pre-gentrification cities were places people came to get away from the constricting values of American life,” Sarah Schulman, the author of Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination (2013), told me over the phone. “The suburbs produced a different kind of person that brought a completely different ethic and value system to cities. You used to get the rejects and the resisters. Now you’d get the products of an unnatural environment of hetero- and racial supremacy.”

In the view of Schulman and others, suburbanization unleashed on cities a deluge of artists who cared more about marketable aesthetics than about art that could create social change."


"They’re part of this education-industrial complex,” he said. “They get a BFA or an MFA, and move to New York. But most of these schools are mediocre and don’t prepare people to actually succeed in the arts or acting. They’re here taking up valuable space because they’ve been led, almost criminally, to believe they can succeed when they can’t. Their parents float them rent for a couple of years, and then they leave, or they end up working in a non-creative field. Meanwhile they’re taking up the housing of families that were here before them.”

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