David Byrne on creative life in NYC: The Rent is Too Damn High


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If rent is a problem they could move to Detroit.


I think it will be better for long-term economic stability for creativity to be more distributed in regional hubs. Come to Cincinnati; we’d love you here, and it is undergoing a tremendous renaissance!


Amusingly (in a the capitalist class creates the material preconditions of its own destruction sort of way) Artists, along with students, are reliable shock troopers of gentrification. Particularly if you have a university to serve as a hub (and provide a police force for pacification operations) both flavors are great for pushing out scary poor people and eventually creating neighborhoods that they can no longer afford to live in. It’s the circle of life.


I love David Byrne as much as the next person, and respect the work he creates, but his perspective here strikes me as a little misguided.

He moves to the poor sections of NYC, struggles to make it, is successful, then does the same things he laments and scolds in his opinion piece. He lives in a nice, expensive area, travels extensively (leaving his place is vacant,I’d assume) and yet from his perspective he holds this up as the shortcomings of the rest of the 1% people in the city.

NYC doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Creativity and living conditions will fluctuate as they are doing, and sooner or later the cycle completes and the tony areas of today will be the rundown slums of tomorrow. Then a bunch of starving artists/immigrants/homesteaders move in, start cleaning up their corner and the cycle begins again. Or in the extreme cases like Venice, environment or other social factors dissude further development and commerce/people flow elsewhere.


come to Philadelphia David

The mcmansiony suburbs will be the next run-down slum, not the super expensive condo towers of NY.


Immigrants are already streaming into the suburbs of the NYC tri-state area.

I don’t think it’s quite so bad if the artist communities of New York have to migrate to Hoboken or Jersey City for a while. There’s lots of real estate along the East Coast that’s run down but beautiful, ready for an artist colonization, and close enough to the train lines to be suitable for ambitious artists.


Hoboken isn’t exactly cheap, neither are the condos in JC. You’d have to move further into the crime zone there to get something affordable.

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I am originally from Limerick, Ireland and Currently live in Helsinki, Finland. There is a lot from those two models which could be applied to this situation. The first is a relatively poor city with lots of council incentives to make the life of artists and arts organisations sustainable. Helsinki is a very wealthy city that is shared equally by the poor and the rich. There are incredibly wealthy areas like Westend but the standard of living is very high in all areas. Rent is high though unless you are a student but there is a lot of incentives and care if you are not privilaged.

Somebody should get this to David Byrne and anyone else with a pulse.

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NYC, San Francisco, Austin, etc. The same scenario is being played out at various magnitudes in all “desirable” cities.

At one point in time, NYC was anything but “desirable”, and creatively, it was thriving. Ultimately, this creative energy turned it into a “desirable” city.

I think artists need to abandon “desirable” cities, and go find new places, perhaps “undesirable”, perhaps not, to go create and thrive, thus redefining which cities will become “desirable” in the future.


Does Limerick still have the nickname Stab City?

This is pretty much the case in Boston. Residential areas are extremely expensive and downtown Boston is mainly for tourists or shoppers. The areas where things are actually happening are on the edges, Cambridge, Somerville, Jamaica Plain, etc. I expect this to creep out even further to areas like Medford and for the downtown to start withering.

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Yeah, Paulus Hook rents are as bad as anything in fancy-Brooklyn or medium-fancy Manhattan neighborhoods.

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Mr. Byrne despairingly asks if he should “join the expat hipsters upstate in Hudson?” As a Hudson Valley resident and Chicago ex-pat, I find this statement reeks of provincial condescension. I understand that this comment comes from the perspective of a person who is a long-time resident of a place that he clearly loves, and seeing his way of life become unsustainable in his own backyard is indeed a considerable sadness. I would however suggest to Mr. Byrne that in his quest for an affordable creative life, he eschew elitist asides that contain coded subtexts that matter-of-factly demean increasingly vital cultures that are thriving outside of well-entrenched vortices. If that mentality of dispossession is what is necessary for you to dig in your heels to help engender change in your own hometown, then so be it; but kindly do so with the understanding that for many, the conditions that are ripe for cultivating the communities of vital creativity you describe may be in places that your myopia has blinded you to the advantages thereof.


Point. But then, that’s precisely how Park Slope and Williamsburg et cetera began: artists moving into the crime zone for the cheap rent. And there still are areas like that, albeit mainly outside of NYC city limits. Compare to Paris, where there is nothing left inside the city, and outside there’s nothing but Corbusian towers, where I can’t imagine an artist community having success.

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So, Manhattan is one giant gentrification and the artists have finally been priced out. Same old story, new giant size.

He has to find a city, find himself a city to live in!