What happens when art isn’t happening from the ground up? With the Mission District being ground zero for the gentrification of culture in San Francisco, we wanted to share some excerpts from this feature from Stretcher.org by artist and writer Megan Wilson, ‘The Gentrification of our Livelihoods: Everything Must Go…’
Make sure to check out the whole article!
by Megan Wilson
Reversing the Gentrification Trend
As artists, our nature is often to see the world as full of possibility and transformation and to help shape culture in ways that are unexpected and unprecedented. However, that ability for artists to be a driving force of culture becomes extremely difficult when economic instability, lack of affordable space and homogenous environments threaten our livelihoods. Rather, we become creative agents who are driven by the forces of money and survival.
To help reverse this current trend we must continue to further our discussions on how we each operate and impact our immediate and expanded communities. It is important that we hold individuals, organizations, funders, small businesses, and corporations accountable for the roles they play and the impacts they have on our communities and the greater culture.
The challenge is this current climate of concentrated capital will be to cultivate alternative models that are equitable and support a culture of sufficiency, including strategies such as land trusts, co-ops, commons, full taxation of corporations, increased protections and regulations for housing and zoning, as well as more stringent community benefit agreements. To achieve these ends, we must work to put far more pressure on our city officials and hold them accountable to provide the best services, opportunities, and amenities for residents, while ensuring that existing communities are protected and supported through high functioning planning, permitting, and legislation with strong and clear avenues for oversight and accountability by their constituencies.
We must also remember that often the most successful creative projects and works of art in the urban landscape are those that capture the intimate and organic connections that are void of contrived models for planned environments; and the subversions to these institutionalized frameworks.
However, it is also important to establish a clear understanding between the term “gentrification” used in the context of: 1) community-spearheaded development that provides greater amenities, services, and economic opportunities e.g. more parks, public art and creative outlets, better schools, greater access to healthy food options, more jobs, increased public transportation etc.; and 2) developing high-end housing, upscale retail, more expensive services, privatization. In the former context, these are virtuous goals for a city to aspire to provide for all its citizens; the latter often leads to the displacement and destruction of existing communities, especially low-income communities of color.
It made me think of the ways in which gentrification isn’t just about the literal displacement of lower-income residents and the businesses and organizations that serve these populations. Rather, as historian and novelist Sarah Shulman similarly notes in her book The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination, gentrification is also the homogenization of space – physical, mental, and creative. It’s the development of planned environments and gated communities; the elimination of critical thinking; privatization, the predetermined playlist, the consumer algorithm – it’s the culture of the lowest common denominator.
Read the whole article, long but thorough, here!