What Oakland Teaches Us About The Future Of Cities Like #newDC



Marcus K. Dowling

I have so many friends who live, work, and have lived and worked in Oakland, California. In fact, for those of us inspired by everything from the Black Panthers to Kreayshawn, Oakland being a city that actively inspired America’s underground-to-mainstream creative evolution was important. However, in the wake of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire, perhaps it’s time to consider that maybe the next creative evolutions in America needn’t come from cities, but perhaps their less expensive and better maintained suburbs. With the election of “Plutocratic Party” candidate Donald Trump as America’s president, fighting the socioeconomic revolution coming to America’s cities is officially futile. In the world’s most ultra-digital and “bigly” democratized era, maybe it’s time to let the cities become the joyless live-work hubs that they’re destined to be, and turn the suburbs into their best and most amazing creative centers of our nation’s future. Where this could easily happen best is in the place that Trump will inhabit for the next four years, Washington, DC.

Real estate values demonstrate that cities are likely best to be seen in the future as live/work hubs. When considering that city dwellers’ rental/ownership costs are so exorbitant as to almost entirely crunch our wallets from having significant amounts of disposable income, the future of cities becomes obvious. Unlike the National Basketball Association, there’s no salary cap-as-rental cap nor direct revenue sharing via taxable revenue available for residents of cities like Washington, DC. Thus, if you’re not already earning enough money to effectively handle what is an ever-growing impact upon your bank account, then staying within the city’s limits becomes impossible.

How this trickles down to artists is that we’ve somehow allowed multiple generations of creatives to undoubtedly believe that living and working in a city is to their best creative self-interests. That was true in an era where the goods and services industries were not being almost entirely devalued in the face of global recession in the digital age. However, we’re now in an era where there’s a 95% gap between the richest and poorest people in Washington, DC, and in the music industry for example, revenue is down nearly 80 percent since 2000. Thus, there’s really no reason whatsoever for professional artists to live within any city’s limits unless they’re willingly wanting to live beneath their means, OR, they’ve figured out how to literally create significant earnings from the streets around them by plugging into the almost entirely live/work-driven economy.

Cities becoming distinctly non-“creative” live/work hubs is why there’s a restaurant and bar boom occurring in a world where music and other creative crafts are devalued. When living and working is all that is a) financially feasible and b) bottom-line desirable to humans, there’s a true need to eat in order to live and drink in order to hide the incredible stress of a life where “play” is no longer viable in the equation.

If looking to still live a life where “play” has value, moving AS FAR AWAY AS POSSIBLE from the city is key. Of course, in thinking about our sad narrative opener of Oakland, Quora answerer Becky Caudill notes, “If you’re talking about actual suburbs of Oakland, there aren’t any. There are suburbs of the Bay Area, and none of them – in my opinion – are cool.”  The idea that artists have to now go from being the coolest and most avant garde people to doing “cool” things in “uncool” spaces is another key piece of this equation. Yes, as far as this relates to DC, that means that it may not be Washington, DC that’s truly artistically on-fire anymore. Instead, that could mean that Frederick, Maryland, Charles Town, West Virginia, and Warrenton, Virginia get to bear the brunt of the artistic load that Washington, DC has priced out of its environs.

How, then, does art stay within a city like #newDC? Foremost, patronage. Yes, patronage. For as much as people may want to believe that America turned back the clock on November 8, it’s in contemplating that an act of charity made popular in the 18th century can answer a problem in America’s capital city (and other cities nationwide) in 2016 that adds fire to the smoke. Wikipedia notes that arts patronage “refers to the support that kings, popes, and the wealthy have provided to artists such as musicians, painters, and sculptors.” In a city with DC’s ever-widening issues with economic disparity, this could be the answer. Yes, it’s a really humbling and possibly in many ways distressing answer, but it’s likely the best answer possible.

As well, there’s the idea that the local arts scene could more fully become the domain of white-collar hobbyists who look at the creative arts as a refuge from the entirely live/work environment. That isn’t necessarily a put-down of the quality of the art that could emerge from such a situation, it’s merely a statement of fact. Hip-hop culture tells us that there’s something incredibly vital about the sounds created by blue-collar populations. However, as far as the future of music from cities is concerned, the sounds coming from “white-collar hobbyists” will undoubtedly be important. Does that add a certain potential “bourgeois” veneer to urban music? Certainly. Will the sounds potentially coming from the beyond high-priced suburb “exurbs” reach the city?  Questions…

As a plutocrat rose to power by day, the Ghost Ship burned in the night. If ever needing a more symbolic way to note how much America’s socioeconomic expectations need to change, that says it all right there. Mainly because I really don’t want to see my friends living beneath their comfort levels and/or going up in smoke, accepting what is and what could be for quite some time is absolutely necessary.

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