Are Expensive Cities Blocking Out Creativity?

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Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015
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Over the past year, people in the art and design industry, including art critics and artists and designers themselves have been spreading the word among young artists not to move to cities like New York, mainly due to their high cost of living.

A debate started between those who suggest that New York City has been taken from the artists and those who argue that it is partially because of the artists that the cost of living is so high. A similar phenomenon is taking place in other cities, such as London and Paris, which used to nurture emerging artists for decades and now are in the hands of the wealthy and tourists.

Brian Rutenberg's New York Studio

Brian Rutenberg’s New York studio

The processes undergone by these cities were very similar; at first, artists were attracted to low-cost neighbourhoods because they could afford studio spaces. However, this fluctuation of artists renting out studios inevitably drew attention to these decaying urban enclaves, and it was not too long after artists had moved there that bars, cafes, shops, and apartment complexes popped up.

This leads to questions as to which cities in the world support emerging artists and designers the most and are accessible and affordable for artistic types.

Of course, there is no easy answer for this, and every city has some combination of great and not-so-great qualities. Elements that could be used to make a tentative ranking of creativity-support cities include affordable rent/housing, access to funding, a good public transport system, a creative community, and the level of discrimination against minority groups.

London Street Piano

London street piano

Although many major cities have a high cost of living and are not ranked as top places for artists anymore, London and New York City should be -so far- named as part of the list.

Both cities have an excellent public transport system that allows citizens to live out of the city centre in a much cheaper suburb. For example in New York; a few of the boroughs and Jersey City just across the river are still quite affordable. Jersey is known for being around 35 per cent less expensive than NYC, and though it is technically a different city, it is only a 30 minute subway ride to Manhattan.

On the other hand, London has a particular attitude and taste for innovation. It is a city that embraces the new and unconventional and talented and provides opportunities and support to artists to make up for its high cost of living.

Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne

Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne

While in terms of fresh innovative work, Australia is globally renowned as a creative powerhouse. Over the past few years, Melbourne has been ranked as the most liveable city in the world, surprisingly rating above London and New York.

Though geographically, Melbourne is far from the most influential design hubs of the world, its culture, creativity and innovation remain significant and relevant at an international level. The city has a sense of mystery and glamour hidden in laneways, rooftops or underground, inhabited by hipsters and fashionistas.

Moreover, the city has the largest tram network on the planet, making it easy to connect suburbs with the CBD. Although the cost of living is high, rent rates are not so elevated in the suburbs, where artist and designers could find lots of opportunities.

Barcelona’s street life.

Barcelona’s street life.

Barcelona is also a favourite among artists, and is the sixth most visited city in Europe. This city was not built to accommodate large buildings, corporations or cars; it was designed to accommodate people. Therefore, the city encourages social activities in and around the public spaces, which are full of bars, restaurants, fashion, music and street art, which make it a very inspiring place for artists.

In addition, the city has a world-class subway system and it is also a highly walkable and bikeable city. Barcelona is also affordable, and in recent years it has been developing a strong start-up environment.

Despite these elements, the city which might support creativity and artists the most is Berlin, Germany.

Berlin Wall

The East Side Gallery, a 1.3-kilometre section of the Berlin Wall.

Offering low rent rates and low public transport fees, it is a great spot for designers, artists, photographers, and entrepreneurs, who do not have lots of money but who need to be in a world class city, have access to top of the line funding, and would like to be in the heart of an incredible creative community.

Berlin offers a unique mix of coolness, accessibility and affordability, including street art, galleries and public events. The cost of living is lower than in most big cities – which is great for artists who want to focus on their work rather than just on making money.

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