One of the problems with gentrification is that the people that originally make an area more desirable (artists) donâ€™t gain and the people that gain (yuppies), often make it less desirable. The reason for this is that creatives rent and canâ€™t buy, and yuppies buy but donâ€™t create.
But imagine a property fund that was based on a simple rule – follow the artists, it would make a fortune. It should be possible then to fund the arts through some mechanism that capitalizes on this.
An arts fund that created artists mortgages with the expectation that they increase the value of properties without normally benefiting (as happened in Shoreditch) could really help mitigate this kind of change, without any external subsidy. It could be run as a non-profit – but would make a healthy one which is fed back into urban regeneration.
The artists wouldnâ€™t be squeezed out at the inflection point of gentrification (the subsidized mortgages would be funded by the those who decided to sell out, since the capital value increase would be higher than for ordinary mortgages, and a percentage of the profit would be taken by the arts fund). This would dampen the negative effects of change and mean that instead of artist flight and a process of gentrification which destroys the very character that started it (as has happened in NYâ€™s SOHO) you would get organic and long-term, sustainable improvement to neighborhoods.
â€œSure, Vancouver is beautiful,â€ says Kotkin, â€œbut itâ€™s also unaffordable unless youâ€™re on an expense account and your company is paying your rent.â€ Burdett agrees: â€œEconomically all these cities at the top of the polls are also in the top league.â€ In fact, it can often be exactly the juxtaposition of wealth and relative poverty that makes a city vibrant, the collision between the two worlds. Where parts of big cities have declined, through the collapse of industries or the fears about immigration that led to what urbanists have termed the â€œdonut effectâ€ (in which white populations flee to the suburbs, leaving minorities in the centres), there is space to be filled by artists and architects, by poorer immigrants arriving with a drive to make money and by the proliferation of food outlets, studios and galleries. These, in turn, attract the wealthy back to the centre, at first to consume, and then to gentrify. Whether in New Yorkâ€™s SoHo, Chelsea or Brooklyn, in Berlinâ€™s Mitte or Londonâ€™s Shoreditch, Hoxton and now Peckham, it is at these moments of radical change that cities begin to show potential for real transformation of lives, or for the creation of new ideas, culture, cuisine and wealth. Once gentrification has occurred, bohemians may whinge about being priced out, as they always have done but, in a big enough city they are able to move on and find the next spot.
I also learned that I need to stop complaining about the Study Stone Centre Building. Itâ€™s ugliness is good for Saskatoon.
There is one criterion which throws up shockingly counter-intuitive results â€“ beauty. On this criterion alone, almost any Tuscan hill town, perhaps Venice, perhaps Paris, would come out on top, yet none of these are there. Most of the beauty in the cities which occupy the tops of the leagues seem to ghettoise their beauty outside the city. They have convenient escapes, though the most beautiful and enjoyable â€“ Rio, San Francisco and others â€“ are curiously absent from the lists. The problem is that beauty doesnâ€™t do you any good at all. Itâ€™s not a factor for the efficient, mid-sized chart toppers â€“ though places such as Zurich certainly have their lovely bits. But it also damages your chances of making it into the disaffected megacities mentioned at the start of this article. The most beautiful cities become monuments to their own elegance, immobile and unchangeable. They cannot accommodate the kind of dynamic change and churn that keeps cities alive. In London, New York and Berlin, it is their very ugliness which keeps them flexible.