Monticello Road is a community arts project in Charlottesville, Virginia. Through photography and a series of public events and conversations, we explore how an art can be an essential, integral and everyday part of a healthy community.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

There Goes the Neighborhood

Real Estate speculation has reached an obscene level that is effectively destroying the fabric of New York. This very fine parody, created by
Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese was part of EyeWash's excellent Artwalking show on Bedford Avenue.

Pat McGeehan's piece in yesterday's New York Times should be required reading for anyone who wants to live in, visit, or even discuss Williamsburg.

He describes the plight of the Brooklyn Brewery, which in many ways is the very heart of the Williamsburg renaissance, yet has found it basically impossible to locate a space in the borough that will allow it to expand or--perhaps--even continue it's operations. It's not because the increasingly wealthy neighbors don't want a brewery next door. On the contrary, it's universally loved. The problem is that light manufacturing has been zoned out of much of the neighborhood and those spaces that remain are being held vacant in the hopes of getting a coveted variance to build luxury condos. I won't rehash the story: you should read it yourself.

McGeehan rightly points out that the plight of small manufacturers is not limited to craft brewers. Because he's writing about business, though, he completely misses the cultural angle, which is very dear to me, and which is at least as deeply troubling.

The brewery certainly was a pioneer in the neighborhood, in a relative sense. Even before their arrival, artists were here converting early-to-mid-century industrial spaces into studios. We all know that artists are being priced out of the neighborhood and have been for some time. It's even worse than that however. When you think about light industrial production, it pretty well matches what an artist does. So the vision of a Brooklyn without light manufacturing is one that does not include artists. Very sobering to think of oneself as completely anathema (as opposed to simply foreign) to the real estate barons that control the city.

So every time I celebrate a nice cafe opening across the street, I also hear my own clock ticking. It's a simple fact of an artist's life that one must constantly relocate ahead of gentrification's tidal wave. What's happening now though is fundamentally different: this is not artists decamping from a building or even a neighborhood. This is an entire city slowly evicting its cultural class.

That is why I stopped fighting for the loft law. Normalizing the inhabitation of industrial land has had the perverse effect of opening a door through which to usher artists out of the neighborhood. So in leading the charge for more housing in North Brooklyn, the arts community has effectively written its own ticket out of here. Beware the law of unintended consequences...

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