Thursday, February 18, 2010

Supply and a Pioneering Demand

The phenomenon of “Loft Living” is a perfect example of potential revealed by necessity. It is quite apparent that an upper-class urban dweller would have never dreamed of inhabiting a loft before 1970. In order to become inhabitable, the average loft required an average of $7000 and 2-6 months for remodeling. Most lofts were located in manufacturing districts devoid of local amenities, such as grocery stores. The beginning stages of loft living contested local zoning restrictions and building codes, making residences “illegal” though of little concern to the state. Despite these inconveniences, lofts held incredible potential within their expansive space, classical architecture, and valuable oak flooring. Artists, who saw lofts as an ideal live-in studio space, first recognized these assets. Such converted residents began to increase in popularity, achieving legal status and involvement of developers. By the early 1980s, artists were driven out by the rising rent prices, subsequently replaced by middle and upper class residents. The affluent had returned to the urban center.
The transition of lofts into their current state can be explained by a hierarchal process – beginning with small industrial manufacturers, then artists, followed by middle-class tenants, real estate developers, and finally the bourgeois upper-class. As deindustrialization made manufacturing firms increasingly obsolete, the buildings that housed them transitioned into cheap residential space for artists. Once the pioneer residents laid the groundwork, lofts became an acceptable form of alternative living for the middle class. Recognizing a profitable demand, developers institutionalized loft living, creating a market for the upper class. This process is far from a natural phenomenon. The popularity of loft living did not arise without the involvement of the state, this ranging from benign acceptance to real estate subsidies. Lending institutions had their hand in the process as well, loaning developers the cost of acquisition and construction costs. As Sharon Zukin states, “To praise the spread of loft living as a result of spontaneous market forces is to accept the real estate developers’ view of the world and to ignore the state’s and banks’ complicity in the construction of this world” (pg.3). Despite this institutional involvement, loft living lends its existence to pioneering artists. Artists who, in need of space, recognized the potential of obsolete manufacturing structures as a solution.

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