Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Response to Loft Living

Lofts were always something I assumed was organic: artists simply filling the space that manufacturing used to occupy when cities deindustrialized. In reality, this view of the whole process is too perfect. Zukin's argument was interesting because she exposed the roles of the city, landlords and banks that led to the development of lofts for residential use. Parts of her argument came off as a little paranoid, but overall it was really strong.

This inspired me to do a little bit of research on the history of a loft in Central Baltimore: The Copycat Building. The building followed Zukin's explanation almost exactly. The building was built in the late 19th Century as a cork factory (the bottle cap was invented there) it functioned for years until it was closed in the late 1970's. It was then bought by Charlie Lankford (it's current owner) in 1983 and used as light manufacturing space, soon after, Lankford decided to rent one floor of the building as artist studios. People began to live in their studios, so Lankford (realizing that residential rents can be much higher than rents for manufacturing space) responded by converting the space to residential. He has run into problems with the city, which is where this case differs from Zukin's argument, but not that much. While the Copycat Building is technically not legal to live in, the city continually seems to look the other way. ( )

Something struck me when Garland Thomas came to talk to our class. I asked him what the CBP thinks of the building and he responded by saying that they like it, if they didn't they would tell the city about all of the code violations it has as they do with other buildings in the neighborhood. This permissive attitude by the city and residents of the neighborhood is interesting because it raises so many questions Why are the city and people ignoring all of the laws being broken? Will it continue to exist as the neighborhood changes? How long can it last?

It also raises the same ethical question that Zukin raises: Is it fair to push light manufacturing out of neighborhoods and cities only to replace them with residences? I think the case of the Copycat Building is a bit more complicated than the ones that Zukin presents. First, the neighborhood in which the Copycat is located is primarily residential, and with the transformation of the building, Lankford brought more residents into the area. In a neighborhood that is so vacant, aren't more residents a good thing? Yes, this decision did displace manufacturing firms is this fair?

Zukin's article made a lot of sense and explained a lot, but it also asked a lot of questions that I'm not sure I can answer. I'm very interested to hear what you all think about the article as a whole or the Copycat case specifically.

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