Art and Urban Decadence

Find below an excerpt of the article I have just published
in canadian art & poetry magazine The Secular Heretic. I discuss cycles of #cityRenaissance, #regeneration and #gentrification with an emphasis on the often ungenerous impact of such processes on artists.

The alchemical cycle of city decline and renewal has been repeated many times:


  • Urban areas fall into disrepair, lose their economic purpose and value.
  • Neighbourhoods are abandoned.
  • Spaces become derelict.

Creative Phase

  • Artists move in, attracted by the affordability. They repair and repurpose crumbling edifices, turn formally unattractive urban strips into hubs of creativity.
  • The urban zone recovers its vibrancy, filled by art studios, workshops, makeshift exhibition halls.
  • Then come the parties, the informal bars, the small food joints. And the area becomes appealing to art tourists.


  • Next appear the connoisseurs, who open art galleries; better restaurants move in; trendy bars; hipster night clubs.
  • This development is followed by the arrival of small independent hostels and boutique hotels. Many studios become part-time accommodation.


  • The investors return, alongside real estate agents. They open bigger hotels, bigger restaurants, university campuses, office blocks and luxury apartments aimed at wealthy art tourists, financiers and bankers.

Final Phase

  • The artists are priced out. No more art studios, workshops or rough-rigged exhibition rooms. Gone the messy parties and informal bars. Out with the art galleries, unless they make big money or have become tourist attractions. The area is prime real estate again with a new economic purpose: it has recovered its value; it is no longer abandoned, other than by the artists who breathed new life into it.

This is the story of lofty lower Manhattan, which was taken up by artists in the 1970s. It is the story of Hackney Wick in London throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. It is the story of Berlin in the 1980s. And the story of El Born in Barcelona in the 1990s and early noughties. This is right now the story of Le Panier in Marseille, the story of most of Detroit and most of Palermo. Such is the decline-and-renewal cycle of diverse cities, large and small, with or without ports and industrial parks—though those with the latter sites tend to dominate in this type of artist-driven urban transformation.

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