Are Urban Bohemian Enclaves Becoming Extinct?

Will Doig discusses the increasing speed at which urban bohemias are colonized, popularized, and gentrified. Does the rapid transformation of urban subculture into mainstream culture, mark the end of urban bohemia?

Boy, this whole urban inversion thing is really taking off. No sooner have we diagnosed a widespread return to the city, and already we're running out of old warehouse districts and urban waterfronts for starving artists to colonize.

Or at least, such is the situation described by Robert Anasi, in his new book "The Last Bohemia: Scenes From the Life of Williamsburg," and in a recent Salon article by Will Doig.

Take Bushwick, Brooklyn for example. No sooner was it identified as a bohemian alternative to neighboring Williamsburg, than the gentrifiers moved in. "'The change is indeed dramatic,' wrote Crain's New York of Bushwick last year. 'In the last year alone, three cafes, two bars, one art gallery, one organic grocer and several other retail businesses have opened.' By 2011, rents were up 63 percent over four years earlier."

According to Christopher Mele, author of "Selling the Lower East Side," "Bohemian neighborhoods were once considered stubborn and resistant to gentrification, but that's long gone. Just as we are likely to have quick and easy access to niche or specialized markets for music, art, design and other cultural products, we have access to urban neighborhoods with distinct place identities."

With cities overrun with voracious developers and children from upper-middle-class families, is suburbia the alternative? Such is the case made by Malu Byrne (daughter of David), who wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed published in May that, "she 'might need to be out of the city in order to sustain my creative spirit.' 'The notion of ‘making it in the city' is increasingly nostalgic and impossible,' she writes. 'Yes, the city supports the arts, but not its up-and-coming artists.'

Thanks to Emily Williams

Full Story: Can bohemia be saved?



Tim Halbur's picture
Blogger / Alum

Typical New York myopia

Like the classic New Yorker cover "A View From 9th Avenue", this is a typical New York problem extrapolated out to apply to the whole world. As Doig finally acknowledges in the penultimate paragraph, there are actually other cities in the United States, and they have plenty of boarded-up warehouses they would love to see gaining new life with bohemians. And unlike in New York, that doesn't equate with instant revitalization. The Gap isn't waiting to pounce on an up-and-coming Cleveland neighborhood.

And really, "ebullient painters with their Jacuzzis"? What struggling artist do you know has a jacuzzi in their shared flat?

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