Cultural Gentrification Is inevitable; Displacement Is not!

Gentrification as a result of ‘cultural development’ is often perceived by locals as unwelcome; but does it have to be that way? It may well be possible to cash in on the newly acquired wealth of an area, to bring decent jobs and opportunities to local people, including the ‘creative community’ whose work may have brought about that very gentrification. There is a clear role here for entrepreneurs, social and otherwise, and for proactive planning and training.
‘Gentrification’ as a result of cultural innovation is a complex process which carries with it a whole range of processes and concepts not often examined. ‘Gentrification’ is seen as a pejorative term in some quarters and this does not recognise the fluid nature, over time, of development in its wider sense (including economic and physical renewal). History tells us that areas within towns and cities change use, shape and value over time. It would be more sensible to regard cultural matters within this context.
Whilst artists, musicians etc are certainly a ‘creative class’, unless perhaps they are in niche design, they are also often far from wealthy. This is the converse side of the complaint that gentrification makes it impossible for artists to stay in an area. So do consistently low wages, which are a deflator of the local economy.
There is a risk in looking only at direct socio-economic outcomes that we will forget highly skilled artists can, like other professionals, become part of the ‘brain drain’ which some parts of the UK still experience.
So whilst artists’ ‘creative’ needs may be being addressed, along with those of the wider community, it is often the case that their normal economic ones are not. On a wider scale, this sort of economic marginalisation can have serious implications for the cultural development of an area. Like other working professionals, artists and performers may choose to move away, to locations and jobs where it is easier to raise a family and plan for a comfortable future – resulting in the opposite of gentrification for a given place. Similar outcomes may occur if there is no feeling in a given ‘community’ that art and culture are significant. It is not only expensive accommodation which may drive creatives away from particular locations.
It will be important in the future to bear in mind that those who lead culture are themselves, as people, part of the equation, and probably have the same basic aspirations as other diverse partners in the exercise. Gentrification or its opposite doesn’t just happen; it’s predicated on the actions of individuals, some of whom will be artists…. Culture is never passive!
Nor are artists necessarily advantaged in their original backgrounds and education. Many fine artists and performers have experienced serious hardship on their way to a professional standing in their field.
Gentrification doesn’t necessarily mean that people who have previously lived in an area will have to leave it entirely. The situation can be handled proactively, not passively, as an opportunity to set up services of all sorts which cater for the requirements of the newly gentrified, through commercial, social and cultural enterprises. There has to be an ‘art of the possible’ in terms of building up expertise and knowledge to deliver businesses and facilities which offer employment at decent rates to the newly gentrified; and this in turn can offer decent work to local people. But whose responsibility is it to plan for this?

Posted on October 13, 2005, in Arts, Culture And Heritage, Equality, Diversity And Inclusion, Knowledge Ecology And Economy, Politics, Policies And Process, Regeneration, Renewal And Resilience. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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