Recently, the Jersey City council approved a ballot referendum for creating an arts trust fund in Jersey City. The proposal would dedicate permanent revenue for local arts and culture organizations. A small additional property tax would collect an estimated $800,000 to $1,000,000 per year–all for the arts. Continue reading
After decades of disinvestment and decline, American cities have become desirable places to work and live, especially for young adults in their 20s and 30s. Bloggers, journalists, and authors have documented this trend in cities, both large and small.
Investment and development have followed this population movement into cities and anticipated its continuance. This has raised the concern and sometimes ire of activists, cultural critics, and longtime residents. Once a term relegated to academic discussion, gentrification has entered the vernacular. Rarely does a week pass when I do not read or hear a story detailing the gentrification of a neighborhood or an entire city.
On the evening of June 14, 2017, Jersey City arts advocates crowded the city council chambers and dominated the public comments segment of the council meeting. Speaker after speaker approached the microphone and articulated the integral role of the arts in the life of the city. Arts contribute to the local economy. Arts improve the quality of life. Arts capture the culture and history of the city. Arts matter.
Investment is pouring into Jersey City, and development is transforming its neighborhoods. Meanwhile, the arts are suffering. Many arts organizations rely upon the largess of real estate interests for studio and performance spaces. A pathetically small amount of state dollars earmarked for the arts finds its way to Jersey City.
Prior to the city council meeting, organizers passed out several hundred red shirts with the slogan “% for the Arts” printed on them. Citizens proudly wore the shirts throughout the meeting. The speakers and organizers were motivated and energized.
In the past fifteen or so years, Brooklyn has emerged as the grassroots cultural and creative capital of not only the New York region but arguably the entire country. Brooklyn entrepreneurs, musicians, artists, writers, and all-around boosters have crafted an attention-grabbing and marketable image of the new Brooklyn: gritty, outrageous, quirky, and weird. Simply put, Brooklyn has become cool.
The desirability of the borough has transformed the socio-economic, demographic, and cultural weave of certain neighborhoods. The word “gentrification” is whispered with a mixture of fear, anger, and resignation. Old ways of life are fading away, and some have disappeared altogether. That’s one part of the story.
Kay Hymowitz analyzes the changing Brooklyn in her new book The New Brooklyn: What It Takes to Bring Back a City (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017). In part, Hymowitz attempts to dispel the worst anxieties associated with the new Brooklyn and to dispel the powerful spell of nostalgia blinding residents to the ugly elements of “the good old days.” She sees the true story of contemporary Brooklyn as far more complicated, diverse, and uneven than the simple narrative of gentrification and displacement promoted by the majority of commentators and the creative class.
While reading Hymowitz’s book, I recognized that the remaking and remapping of Brooklyn resembled that of Jersey City in many ways: new immigration, rapid development, an emerging affluent class, and stubborn pockets of poverty. However, the story of Brooklyn differs from Jersey City in several key areas.