Richard Florida is a co-founder and editor at large of CityLab and a senior editor at The Atlantic. He is a University Professor and Director of Cities at the University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute, and a Distinguished Fellow at New York University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate.
But artists are being pushed out of some of the city’s long-standing creative neighborhoods.
A couple of years ago, legendary Talking Heads frontman David Byrne wrote in a column: “If the 1% stifles New York’s talent I’m out of here.” For poet and songstress Patti Smith, “New York has closed itself off to the young and the struggling.” Her advice to the next generation: “Find a new city.”
There is little doubt that New York has become prohibitively expensive for many artists, young and old alike, just as it has for middle-class people and working-class families, never mind the poor and truly disadvantaged. But according to a study released last week by the New York-based Center for an Urban Future (CUF), the city is actually home to more artists than ever.
In the decade and a half spanning 2000 to 2015—the apex of the back-to-the-city movement and the period during which the city’s housing prices boomed, busted and surged to record highs—the city’s artistic community grew by 8,338, a growth rate of 17.4 percent, bringing the total to more than 55,000. The study defines artists broadly as visual and performing artists. This includes artists, actors, dancers, musicians, and photographers. It does not include architects, designers, producers, or writers, which the authors consider part of the broader creative economy.
But, the study also finds that artists are being pushed out of some of the city’s long-standing creative neighborhoods. Following a tradition of artists seeking out space in the least expensive places, the creative community in New York City has shrunk in some neighborhoods and grown in others.
While established creative districts like Greenwich Village, TriBeCa, and Chelsea still boast the largest absolute numbers of artists and creatives, their artist ranks have declined significantly over this decade and a half period.
Manhattan experienced a ten percent decline in its creative population between 2000 and 2015. Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen—an area that has boomed with luxury condos, high-end shops and tech companies—saw the biggest decline, at 28 percent. Further downtown, the area spanning Greenwich Village, Tribeca and the Financial District lost 24 percent of its artists and creatives. The Lower East Side and Chinatown saw a 17 percent drop in their artistic population. Turtle Bay, Murray Hill and Stuyvesant Town saw an ever more severe 37 percent drop in their creative community. The number of artists on the Upper West side – the neighborhood with largest number of artists and creatives of any - declined by a more modest 2.5 percent.
In the meantime, the artistic population of New York has shifted significantly. Brooklyn, ground zero for gentrification, saw 72 percent growth in artists and creatives between 2000 and 2015. The artistic population of rapidly gentrifying Williamsburg and Greenpoint grew by 75 percent since 2000 (even though the population of artists in these two neighborhoods has levelled off and actually declined in the past couple of years). The artistic population of Fort Greene, Brooklyn Heights and Downtown Brooklyn grew by 58 percent. But the most dramatic growth in Brooklyn occurred in neighborhoods like Sunset Park (124 percent growth); North Crown Heights and Prospect Park (+114 percent); Bedford Stuyvesant (+268 percent) and Bushwick (+1,116 percent – the largest increase by far). Though admittedly some of these neighborhoods grew from very small existing artistic populations to begin with: The number of artists in Bushwick grew from just 150 in 2000 to 1,824 in 2015.
Even greater growth has occurred in parts of Queens and the Bronx. Queens has experienced a 35 percent increase in creatives since 2000, with the most dramatic growth occurring in the areas spanning Astoria and Long Island City (a 40 percent increase). The Bronx saw even greater growth, with its population of artists doubling over this time. The number of creatives living in the area around Throngs Neck and Co-op city has grown by almost 300 percent since 2000.
It’s often said that artists and creatives are the first wave of gentrification; and the influx of artists certainly coincides with the increasing desirability, housing prices, and rents of these neighborhoods.
That said, Manhattan continues to be the focal point of the city’s creative community – the island is home to more artists than the other four boroughs combined. And while many neighborhoods in Lower Manhattan have seen sharp declines in their artistic populations, the number of artists and creatives in Central Harlem has grown by more than 200 percent since 2015. What remains in Lower Manhattan is a world-class cluster of art galleries, museums and art spaces that easily afford the rising rents. These galleries are key contributors to attracting the superstar talent that has brought those rising rents and housing prices to being.
Overall, even with its expensive housing prices, New York remains the nation’s leading creative center. Only Los Angeles comes close to threatening to the Big Apple’s longstanding artistic preeminence. The past decade or so has seen a creative migration from New York to Los Angeles, according to detailed research by US Census Bureau. Indeed, the artistic and creative economy may well be the best example of what I term “winner-take-all urbanism.”
While New York’s artistic community remains robust, the report points out that rising rent prices are taking their toll on artists’ studios and workspaces, meaning fewer affordable places for artists to create. It recommends using thousands of underutilized art studios and practice facilities in the city’s school to help fill the gap. Not only would this offer artists and creatives affordable spaces to create, it could also build stronger relationships between these neighborhoods and the city’s creative communities.
When all is said and done, the real problem confronting New York and other superstar cities is not that artists and creatives are being pushed out. It’s that working-class people, the broad middle class, and especially the less advantaged are being pushed out.
The study reinforces my own accounting in The New Urban Crisis that while younger and less-established artists and creatives are being priced out of the city’s premier neighborhoods, there is little evidence that the city is being drained of creativity and innovation.
Alastair Boone contributed reporting for this article.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated that the total number of artists in New York City grew by more than 55,000 artists. It grew to more than 55,000 artists.
A previous version of this also story misstated what types of professions are included in its definition of “visual and performing artists.” It includes artists, actors, dancers, musicians, and photographers. It does not include architects, designers, producers, or writers, which the authors consider part of the broader creative economy.