Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Devils Advocate

I want to preface this post by saying that I'm writing this not necessarily because I feel this way, but because many of these sentiments have been expressed to me by people living in Greenmount West:

Is development in the Station North area really a good idea? This is a question that has been posed to me by a lot of people I live and work with. The guiding idea the people have when they ask this question is "I like my neighborhood the way it is". There is already a vibrant, functioning art community there, the rent is affordable and and the quality of life is by many of these people's standards decent. There seems to me to be a rift between the criteria different populations use to evaluate the quality of a neighborhood.

Take vacant space as an example. There is a house on 23rd and Barclay that regularly hosts concerts in the basement. Not only is it a place for the arts and music communities to gather, but it provides a space for touring bands to stop, play, sleep and make some money. But why can this house in the middle of residential neighborhood host these loud shows that often go until late at night and attract minimal noise complaints? Because the houses on either side of it are vacant. If this was not the case, then this important gathering place could not exist. The space is a an open space that allows for interesting and experimental things to happen without the pressure of making money (to dispel a common misconception, the vast majority of people that host house shows do not use door money to pay their rent).

Yes, it's possible that in the process of development, a multi-use performance space could be created to house these kinds of events, but this brings up the old adage "if it aint broke, don't fix it". There is something to be said for self organization, and this seems to be frequently overlooked by people seeking to develop an area (sometimes even if those people are living in the neighborhood.)

This system may seem parasitic and unproducative, but it would be meiopic to ignore the cultural production and the potential for future capital that can be generated by the experimentation going on within this decidedly anti-capitalist space. Furthermore, Elizabeth Currid, made it clear in her article that these spaces of open socialization are important to an arts economy. Would the institutionalization of these DIY spaces change this? I'm not sure, but I do know that these spaces as they currently exist are an asset to the arts community and should be preserved in the process of development.

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