New York’s Creative Class Leading City’s Economic Growth, But Struggling To Pay The Rent

Screenshot: nycfuture.org
Screenshot: nycfuture.org

New York’s creative sector, which is composed of industries spanning film, music production, design, publishing and architecture among others, is one of the most vibrant and substantial portions of the city’s economy, according to a new report authored by the Center for an Urban Future [PDF]. The report, which is called Creative New York, examines data compiled from 2003 to 2013, and concludes that Brooklyn’s creative class grew by a staggering 60 percent in that timespan, but that the city’s skyrocketing rents might prove destructive of further potential growth. 

Despite favorable numbers that indicate a boon in creative fields, including a 13 percent increase in overall employment within creative industries, and an 18 percent leap in the total number of creative businesses and nonprofits in New York City, New Yorkers have reason for wariness amid the windfall, especially when it comes to the arts.

Close to 150 people interviewed for the report, including seminal New York artists like David Byrne and Patti Smith, “cited affordability as a major threat to the vitality of the arts.” The report adds substance to this sentiment, documenting the shuttering of various galleries and venues across the city due to soaring rents. Several of those venues, including Williamsburg’s Death By Audio, were here in Brooklyn. 

“We identified at least 24 music venues (including seven in Williamsburg) and 310 art galleries that have closed their doors since 2011, mainly due to changing neighborhood characteristics and increasing rents. And, since 2005, 22 performing arts theaters have moved or shut down for similar reasons,” the report states.

To that end, the report offers some pretty exhaustive policy solutions for the mayor’s office that, if enacted, could alleviate many of the art scene’s deterrents.

Among them are building “successful models for providing affordable work and rehearsal spaces for artists.” The report contends that “the city has introduced a number of initiatives to address these affordability challenges and should look to extend them.”

The report also advocates “more support for collaborative working spaces,” in addition to repositioning old real estate assets like psychiatric wards and hospitals so they can “address work-space affordability challenges.”

Initiatives like these would put New York more on par with cities like Stockholm and Berlin, both of which have large sums of public funding devoted to the arts that subsidize projects from rock bands to performance artists.

Similarly, the report states that other American cities might be stealing New York’s thunder as the nation’s creative capital, saying that the “appeal of other creative hubs is no mystery.” The report again draws on the cost of living in New York to illustrate this concept.

“Compared to its peers around the nation, New York City is crushingly expensive. Housing costs in Manhattan exceed those in Nashville by 473 percent, Austin by 401 percent, Philadelphia by 225 percent, Portland by 173 percent and L.A. by 114 percent. In Brooklyn, once an affordable refuge, real estate costs have now surpassed all locations but San Francisco and Manhattan.”

Although the report reiterates much of the same bad news concerning NYC’s living costs, it does provide some pretty positive insights into New York’s place in the national creative landscape.  The report found that from 2003 to 2013, NYC’s share of national creative employment grew across all industries by at least four percent.

The report also found that growing creative industries stimulate a variety of other sectors, including tourism.

“New York’s creative industries are also the single biggest draw for tourists, and thus a critical catalyst for growth in the city’s hospitality sector. In the last dozen years, the number of tourists visiting the city rose 60 percent, from 35.3 million in 2002 to 56.4 million in 2014,” the report states.

Screen shot: NYCfuture.org
Screen shot: NYCfuture.org

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