Some thoughts on creativity, hipsters and gentrification: a hasty reply to Aleks Eror

This started life as a facebook post and though I’ve tidied it up a little it’s a little rough around the edges…

This is half right in claiming that ‘hipsters’ (the pioneer-explorers of Richard Florida’s ‘creative class’) are among the losers of gentrification. Indeed Florida – the arch-guru of ‘creative regeneration’ – has always acknowledged this himself, stating that the benefits of creative regeneration are not distributed equally, even among his ‘creative class’. So yes, of course lowly paid, ‘creative’ young people (I put creative in scare quotes because it’s a very limited understanding of creativity that’s being peddled here) are victims of their own success in the sense that the ‘creative capital’ they bring to an area always benefits others more than them, to the point that – as Eror notes – they have to eternally move on like ‘self-gentrifying urban Bedouins’. But then that’s how capitalism works. Your work always benefits someone else more than you.

This idea of the ‘urban Bedouin’, of course, tells you why hipster-creatives don’t lose half as much as so many others. Because they can move on. By and large they’re young, they have disposable income, they don’t have family ties, they’re not in social housing, they don’t have children settled in local schools (unlike, of course, so many poor [and often Black, Asian and Eastern European] people). And after all, if they called their dad he could stop it all, yeah? I think it’s disingenuous to say that their nomadic area-hopping is simply a fun adventure – house-hunting/dealing with letting agents doesn’t stop being stressful just because you’ve got a new 7″ coming out on lime green vinyl – but there’s undoubtedly something rather eager about the way they move on to a new area (‘hey! everyone’s moving to Deptford now!’).

Attention also needs to be paid to the way that ‘creativity’ – particularly artistic labour – is used to try and mitigate the very worst effects of gentrification. So whilst public services are closed/forced out, artists are deployed to (very cheaply) give the poorest a sense of ‘inclusion’ (but never to challenge the status quo, of course). New Labour were quite naked in their use of participatory art to this end, and Benedict Seymour has been wonderfully vicious in his skewering of these practices.

So what to do? This is where Aleks Eror’s piece is really rather pathetic, capitulating to hideous stereotypes (Edmonton’s still as authentic as ever. But don’t forget your stab vest’) and the most abysmal capitalist realism (‘what’s the alternative?’). So what are the alternatives? Stop being ‘creative’? Well, perhaps. But ‘creatives’ can also resist. Those at the bottom of the creative class can realise that their true class allegiance isn’t with the other creatives, but with the working class, refugees, the poor, the dispossessed, the exploited, the excluded. Hamburg might offer some hope here – there, ‘creative’ areas fight (often literally) to prevent their gentrification (and link that struggle to other struggles – the struggle for alternative spaces, for migrant rights, etc). Artists organise alongside squatters and the poor to prevent capitalists hoovering up the profits from their hard work.

In the UK, sadly, ‘creatives’ (myself included,) seem all-too happy to follow Eror – to shrug their shoulders and complain ‘but I’m losing out too, it’s not my fault! I like poor people and black people! I don’t mean to force them out!’.

Capitalism, quite simply, doesn’t give a fuck.

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