Rock and a Hard Place – Arts and Gentrification

banner artsIt’s not a new story. The run down section of town goes unused for years. The rents slip, and spaces open up (driving rents even lower). And then slowly, attracted to the low cost of living and with an aptitude for seeing glimmer through the grit, a few hipsters and artists move in, and slowly change the look and feel of the place. Maybe a weekly meetup at a coffee shop spills out into a real project, and a cool co-working artist space is born. Soon, breweries and local food stores, trendy hangouts and gallery space, popping up like wildflowers. An economy is revitalized – a bad neighborhood is now the place to be.

But then you realize that the rents are skyrocketing, the cost of living is more expensive, and people are being priced out of their homes. Economics force working-class people to move – or maybe they just decide their hometown isn’t really theirs anymore. Over and over again, in so many cities around the country, a big, problematic process of gentrification has followed “the cool little spot that no one knows about.”

This is, without a doubt, an incredibly simplistic portrayal of a complex and diverse urban phenomenon. But it’ll serve for a launching pad to talk about another problem.

The reality is, local food is often better for you and it’s almost certainly better for the environment. Breweries are great and bring people downtown to support a city’s economy. Art exhibits can take people to special places and enhance the civic virtue of an entire community. More importantly – and more relevant to this blog – the amenities that often surround the arts are crucial to attracting and retaining the young professionals on which a city hangs its future.

So how do you have your cake and eat it too? How does a city enhance its downtown with some of the key aspects of a gentrifying neighborhood while avoiding creating winners and losers?….

If I had the answer to that, I can guarantee it would be the most widely read piece of writing I had ever done (surpassing my master’s thesis, which both of my parents assure me they’ve read). I definitely don’t have the answers. But I can tell you that the question is always on my mind.

Presumably, if you’re reading this, you either care deeply about attracting and retaining young people in New Hampshire, or about the City of Claremont – or both. So for my next few blog posts, I’m going to bring in people that are working to enhance the arts and culture sector of Claremont’s economy. We’ll talk about how their work will help to draw new people to the City, and about how it will enhance the lives of the people already here. I’ll comb through articles and point out examples from other places that I find interesting. And maybe we can draw some conclusions about our small New Hampshire cities can become beacons for the young and restless while maintaining their old, granite souls.

Stay tuned!

3 Responses to “Rock and a Hard Place – Arts and Gentrification”

  1. StephenFebruary 24, 2015 at 4:54 pm #

    I saw this cycle begin to play out in the Arts District of L.A. when I lived there, and it’s definitely in full swing in Portsmouth now. At this point, it seems like young creatives and professionals are drifting inland from the Port City, which is a shame, because I think our work is what gives the town its vibrance. Hopefully it can stem the tide a little.

  2. Karen DecoteauFebruary 26, 2015 at 12:50 pm #

    I can see this happening in Claremont if taxes keep going up as they have been. I believe there is 1000 residence less than a few years ago. Where are they going?

    • Zach WilliamsFebruary 27, 2015 at 2:14 pm #

      Karen,

      Thanks for your thoughts. Claremont’s population seemed to peak around the late 1970s and 1980s, and the population dropped over the next decades. However, the City added population from the 2000 Census to the 2010 Census, and I’m hopeful that trend continues! There is a lot of room for us to grow!

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