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From the Edge: Editorial

 by Megan Irwin  published on Thursday, November 3, 2005

Megan Irwin<br>SPM/issues/arts/694727
Megan Irwin
SPM
 

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This summer I lived in New York City. One thing you should know about New Yorkers is that they never give their actual address -- directions are given by cross streets only. So I lived on 14th Street between Third and Fourth avenues, also known as Union Square.

There was a time, before New York was "cleaned up" when that address was coveted by artists and free thinkers. Just down the street from Washington Square Park, where freaks and folkies and poets once gathered in the 60s, Union Square is now barely recognizable as the haven for artistic expression it once was. If you stand in the center of Union Square today, you'll see a Virgin Mega Store, a Circuit City, a Whole Foods and a Starbucks flanking both the east and west sides. New Yorkers are always on the go, but no one needs that much corporate coffee. Sure, you'll spot the occasional drum circle, break dancer, or just plain crazy person performing in the park on Saturday afternoon, but the bohemian spirit of the Lower East Side has been completely beaten to death by businesses catering to yuppies and yuppies-in-training (oops, I mean New York University students). I'm all for cleaning up a neighborhood, but come on -- this is the LES we're talking about. Give me some grit, some divey punk rock bars or at least something with a pulse.

And what's at the core of this cultural death? I've got one word for you: gentrification. That process by which businesspeople capitalize on the hip culture of a particular area and move in with low fat Frappachinos, chain stores and fancy (expensive) housing. Gentrification isn't limited only to New York; it happens almost every place where some artistic movement has appealed to the mainstream, spelling big bucks for developers and corporations.

This week's cover story (The Cost of Culture, page 8) addresses the very real concerns of gentrification in downtown Phoenix as a result of the artistic movement in the historic area, centering on the First Friday Artwalk. SPM spoke with gallery owners, artists and city officials to discover what is being done to fight the negative effects of gentrification. For the past few years, Phoenix artists have built something pretty cool down there -- something that's given our sprawling metropolis (gasp!) a hint of culture.

No one is going to mistake the Roosevelt neighborhood for the LES anytime soon, but it'd be a shame to see Phoenix fall victim to the same mistakes.

Megan Irwin is the Editor in Chief of SPM. Reach her at megan.irwin@asu.edu.



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