The Native Tourist
reformed/biblical observations on Christianity and culture

Friday, June 11, 2004
Real and Pretend Urbanism
A little more about cities, "new" (="revitalized") neighborhoods and the "rise of the Creative Class".

Last week ago Thursday my wife and I went to First Thursday in Pearl District in Portland. (This is an evening when all the art galleries in the district are open, as well as the other shops, and in the summer the close down some of the streets and there are art and craft vendors.) What a zoo. Crowds. Loads of people clearly from outside of Porland (i.e. the suburbs) trying to be cool, pretending to be art connoiseurs, being entertained. It was the place to be. And it all seemed so fake.

I can remember regularly going to the galleries in Soho in New York City when there were only four or five galleries on West Broadway (circa 1979). It was still industrial back then. Artists living in lofts was a radical new idea. Then the neighborhood began to change. More galleries and soon upscale clothing stores, furniture "galleries" and craft boutiques. It was cleaned up. All the grit was gone.

My friend aptly called it "little Rodeo Drive."

Later came the rise of Tribeca and now I understand that Chelsea has followed suit. Most of the artists moved to Williamsburg section of Brooklyn where there is now a lively gallery scene. (Will this be ruined too?)

Richard Florida may talk about "authenticity" being a value New Urban Creatives desire in their neighborhoods. But any vestage of authenticiy disapears as soon as the upscale stores move in and things are cleaned up. It then becomes a tourist destination - not a real neighborhood. Besides who can afford $350K for 1000 sq ft loft in the Pearl?

When we were first married, we lived for two years in the West 50s in Manhattan. Hispanic men played dominoes on the street on card tables for hours Ninth Avenue. People hung out windows and talked to their friends on the street. The local waitress in the Diner new us by name. This was authentic neighborhood.

These new cool urban neighborhoods are about as "authentic" as Disneyland or Colonial Williamsburg. But the tourists like it.