Friday, March 22, 2013

agnostic on urbanity.

I do not mean to be so contrarian, to be constantly questioning, pondering the inevitable unintended consequences, the price of having a brain that doesn't shut off and a continual realization that most solutions create problems of their own or don't deal with the actual problems.

I've been organizing and inventorying piles of old Clevelandia newspapers, most of them independent,  for the last couple weeks, which is super fascinating, to read about history around the time I was born happening, when not all has been revealed. No, Clevelandia didn't come back the way they said it would in the 70's, or the 80's, or the 90's. Tawana Brawley was making it up. That guy endorsed in the paper (and that guy and that guy) who were supposedly such great politicians ended up in jail. That band never did make it out of the neighborhood bar. The neighborhood didn't come back when that new shopping center opened. All these young people love cities and are moving back! In 1975, in 1982, in 1993, in 2011.

There were those t-shirt companies making shirts back then just like they do now, providing a snarky sense of regional pride. Local vendors are going to save us all! In 1982, in 2002, in 2012. I forget how much I love print media, especially weekly rags gone yellowed, with ads that are hand drawn and typewritten, long-form journalism by people denied a voice in other places who were concerned and interested in things not covered much by the main newspapers. It's fascinating to read about the Cleveland punk scene as it was happening in the late 70's, in a place where even the biker bars had disco nights.

I don't believe in Cleveland. It's a place where I live, and a place that I don't mind waking up in. There's a lot of stuff here I like to do and people I love dearly. It's a good little place, but I don't believe in it, at least not up to the point that others do. I love art and music and writing, and while those improve the quality of life immensely, they're not salvation in themselves, and it's absurd to treat them as if they are.

So I wasn't surprised then, that Mr. Creative Class himself doesn't even believe the spiel that he pulled on every dying midwest town while laughing all the way to the bank. Those precious art scenes don't exist without Big Corporate or some kind of local Rich Patron, and your city being labeled as "cool" doesn't really help anybody who isn't of a certain demographic. The people I know here who are legit artists don't sell a lot of work locally, it's almost always people from elsewhere. Also, as much as I love mom-and-pop entities, they usually can't afford to hire a lot of people. There's limits to what an artisan economy can do, especially in a poor area where luxury goods are out of reach or culturally irrelevant to anyone besides other hipsters and those who co-opt their aesthetic.
Not everyone's into art galleries or brewpubs or indie rock. Heaven knows if they were, you'd hate that too.

This article made some people I know really angry but I think the rage is not so much against the argument, because even he says he's wrong,  so much as it's almost a dig at a certain way of looking at life that says that your lifestyle, however passionately you feel about it, probably isn't doing much for the world around you. I really look at this whole creative class business as Reaganomics for hipsters. Rather than tax breaks and concessions for corporate to trickle down to the working man, it substitutes an amorphous mass of "creatives" and technocrats. But a rising tide doesn't lift all boats in this regard, and that has borne itself out.

Not everyone can live in BikeMessengerLand (this being one of the few moments when I think that David Brooks is dead on), and I find the cultural snobbery that only people who are "cool" and have lots of disposable income are worth drawing to one's town. I might be construed as creative class due to my employment and interests, but I'm not exactly an ideal city resident. I'm not affluent, I rent so I can jump ship when things get bad. I've made an effort to put down roots more than some, but in all honesty, I live where I live because not everyone is bright young things my age. I like the stability of families with kids in tandem with regular folks and gay couples living in swanky Victorians.

Looking at only artists and people chasing cool discounts the vast majority of decent people who just want to be able to get through the week without too much hassle and be able to have a place where the kids can go to school and learn without worrying about them getting messed with there or on the way home. It's hard to rely solely on your bike when the buslines are skeletal and you're trying to handle three kids and a ton of groceries and taking care of your uncle who can't walk. Rage about sprawl all you want, but we can't undo what's already been done over the last fifty years, we have to deal with the way things are, not what we wish they were.

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