gentrification

Video: Resist 2010: 8 Reasons to Oppose the 2010 Winter Olympics

Back in February, a MediaMouse.org contributor wrote about the 2010 Olympics that are being held in Vancouver and the inspiring organizing being done to oppose the Olympics by a broad coalition of social justice groups.

As a follow-up to that piece, we are publishing a fifteen minute documentary produced by anti-Olympic activists about the 2010 Olympics and the impact that the games will have on the city of Vancouver. The organizing in Vancouver is particularly relevant because a nearby midwestern city–Chicago–is currently working to host the 2016 Olympics. Like the Vancouver Olympics, there is already organizing against the Chicago games via the group No Games Chicago.

Resist 2010: Eight Reasons to Oppose the 2010 Winter Olympics. (LOW RES) from BurningFist Media on Vimeo.

Video Explores Gentrification and Resistance in Detroit

A new music video and documentary by Detroit rapper Ilana Invincible has been released. The video, available for view below, provides an excellent overview of gentrification in Michigan’s largest city and the organizing that people are doing to combat it. Moreover, the video is a great example of the infinite ways in which folks can produce independent media.

Watch it below:

Graffiti Website Redesigned as Graffiti Declines in Grand Rapids

The Grand Rapids Graffiti and Street Art website has been redesigned even as graffiti continues to decline in the city. The days of the Grand Rapids Police Department talking about draconian measures such as requiring arrested artists to wear electronic tethers or prohibiting the sale of spray paint as part of an organized graffiti crackdown appear to be gone, with artists instead getting caught based on the contents of their profiles on social networking websites and the places once favored by artists being rapidly gentrified. The photographs collected on the website portray an art form that is far more complex than what is described in the media, where graffiti writing is reduced to being simply “graffiti” as poorly scrawled names around the city. Moreover, the media’s overly simplified portrayal of graffiti has shaped the discourse into one of crime and control, rather than looking at other issues affecting downtown such as gentrification or the lack of outlets for artistic expression by youth in the Grand Rapids area.

Despite Questions, City Recommends New Downtown Developments for Brownfield Status

At Tuesday’s City Commission meeting, public hearings were held for two new developments in the downtown area with developers of both projects seeking Brownfield status for their projects. Like many recent developments, the developments will incorporate a mix of retail stores, office space, and condominiums and provide what developers claim will be an important addition to the economic vitality of downtown Grand Rapids.

The first hearing addressed a planned development at 45 Ionia called “The Tall House.” The project is being touted by the developers as a way to create a “heart for downtown” that would cater to and attract the first wave of new urbanites and would fit into the “cool cities” development model. The $27 million development will be nine stories and consist of an underground parking structure, retail suites, office space, and condos on the third through ninth floors. According to the developer, the Brownfield status is needed in order to offset the $2 million in additional expenses being incurred by building the project in downtown Grand Rapids rather than the suburbs. Mayor George Heartwell questioned the developers about whether or not they would conform to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) building standards for sustainability since the city passed a resolution earlier in the meeting that requires new city buildings to adhere to LEED standards, to which the developers replied that they will be unable to achieve LEED certification. In a response to a question from Commissioner Rick Tormala about whether or not the project will include low-income housing units, the developers responded that while housing units are “not technically low income” they are very affordable at $200,000. Tormala also asked if the developers had gone to the Heartside Neighborhood Association and Heartside Business Association to which the developers responded that they did not. Tormala was able to get a verbal promise from the developers that they would consult with the Heartside community but he cautioned them not to describe $200,000 housing as affordable. Following concerns about the project from the Mayor and Commissioners Tormala, Jendrasiak, and Dean, the project was approved unanimously.

The Commission, despite developers’ failure to consult with the Heartside Neighborhood Association and Heartside Business Association, also approved a second development project at the intersection of Ionia and Williams. The development, which would consist of one floor of retail, two floors of offices and condos, and five floors of hotel rooms, would feature condos selling for $300,000 or more according to current plans. Moreover, the developers, while trying to achieve LEED certification, are unsure if they will be able to obtain certification due to the size of the project. Once again, the vote in favor of approving the project’s Brownfield status was unanimous.

Following the second hearing, Tormala told Susan Shannon of the City of Grand Rapids Economic Development office to make sure that from now on developers consult with neighborhood associations before advancing their plans, but given the Commission’s apparent willingness to “rubberstamp” downtown development, it remains to be seen whether or not this will actually happen.

Cities and the Creative Class

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Richard Florida’s theory that a “creative class” made up of professionals involved in what he terms “creative” occupations is the main catalyst for the development of cities and regions has become one of the preeminent theories of urban development amongst planners, including those in the state of Michigan. Numerous states have launched projects like Michigan’s Cool Cities Initiative hoping to attract the fabled creative class Florida discusses in his books, 2002’s The Rise of the Creative Class and 2005’sCities and the Creative Class. Cities and the Creative Class is a companion book to The Rise of the Creative Class, compiling the empirical data used to make the conclusions presented in The Rise of the Creative Class.

Richard Florida’s Creative Class Theory is based on the idea that the creative sector of the economy is the driving force behind most new development and that those cities that have high percentages of people in the “creative class” are the fastest growing regions in the country. Florida defines the creative class as those people employed in science and engineering, research and development, technology-based industries, arts, music, culture, design work, or knowledge-based professions. People employed in these professions account for nearly half of the wage income earned in the United States and about a third of the total workforce. Florida grounds his theory in “the 3 T’s,” technology, talent, and tolerance, and uses copious amounts of data to prove that regions that blend these three areas are experiencing the most development. Moreover, Florida argues that his theory emphasizes the expansive role of culture, the limitless potential of humanity, and the importance of unleashing that potential to spur societal growth.

Florida’s theory of the creative class has garnered criticism, a fact that he cites in his book. Due to Florida’s use of his “gay index” to determine a city’s relative diversity, Florida has been accused of “eroding traditional family values, promoting a gay agenda, and that he is undermining the tenets of Judeo-Christian civilization”–not a particularly coherent critique, but one that would no doubt arise in the era of conservative culture wars. To this criticism, Florida responds that he is “straight” and is not promoting a “gay agenda;” a response that is inherently problematic and unenlightened. Unfortunately, this type of response, at least as far as this work is concerned, seems typical of the flippant nature by which Florida rejects criticism of his theory. A far more coherent critique could be made regarding the fact that Florida’s Creative Class is fairly exclusive, and while there is the theoretical possibility that some people may move from low-paying service industry jobs into his coveted Creative Class careers, the fact remains that only one-third of the United States workforce is a part of Florida’s class. Consequently, development designed to cater towards this minority population-who more likely than not has a high disposable income to fund a lifestyle in which they act like “tourists in their own cities” who treat themselves to a variety of luxuries-downplays the real needs of the majority of people in US cities. Florida briefly responds to this criticism, mentioning that critics on the left have accused him of wanting to make “cities yuppie-friendly”, yet he shies away from a serious discussion of the possibility of gentrification arising from the cities targeting the Creative Class. Florida’s so-called “bohemian” artists have long been the first wave of gentrification in cities across the United States and a failure to account for this remains one of the most serious flaws in the book, along with the fact that one of the barriers for entry into the Creative Class includes specialized education that is systematically denied to low-income populations in the United States.

Consequently, it is not surprising when Florida demonstrates little concern for the people who are most likely to be affected as a result of development based on his theory of the Creative Class. Rather than be concerned about the fact that all people suffer the effects of uneven regional development, Florida bemoans the fact that artists and creative people may be forced out-but demonstrates no genuine concern the low income people with or without homes that are forced out of city centers as they are redeveloped to satisfy the “needs” of the Creative Class. It is no surprise that Florida’s own numbers show that inequality is the worst in regions with a high-level of creative development. Moreover, while Florida shows little concern for people of low-income, he displays strikingly little concern for the gay population that he uses as a barometer for diversity. After praising the “progressive” nature of the gay population and their presence in urban centers, Florida says nothing about the importance of gay rights and instead refers to himself using the oppressive “straight” construct when explaining that he is not an advocate of “the gay agenda.”

Despite the flaws of the Creative Class theory, it remains one of the major influences on urban redevelopment, and as such, deserves the attention of those interested in development. Cities and the Creative Class provides the perfect starting point for those seeking to better understand the theory, as it provides the raw numbers used by Florida to arrive at the conclusions outlined in his The Rise of the Creative Class. For most people in the United States, Florida’s theory and suggestions offer nothing, but his book does provide an important information on current development patterns.

Richard Florida, Cities and the Creative Class, (Routledge, 2005).