It’s Not Just Artists but the Subways They Take That Drives Gentrification

asdlabs subway art 1 Its Not Just Artists but the Subways They Take That Drives Gentrification

Subways and artists have had a long, long relationship.

Everybody knows the old saw about how artist migrations and subway access help drive gentrification in the city, but we never realized the two were quite so intertwined.

Capital New York has an interesting story about how a major gallery, Luhring Augustine, moving to Bushwick might reshape the neighborhood, as has happened so many times before. There is some doubt this is the case, given the neighborhood’s remoteness from Manhattan. We shall see, maybe sooner than we know.

Still, that is not what really caught The Observer‘s pink eye—which is not to say the story isn’t great, it is, and you should go read it. Allow us to link to it once more so that you do.

What was so striking to us, then, was an editor’s note written by Tom McGeveran (an Observer alum, as you may know) included in an email newsletter, which you can only find if you already subscribe to Capital emails. In his note, Mr. McGeveran gives one of the most interesting explanations for not just why but how gentrification happens:

There’s a theory that the development of a neighborhood of artists in New York City is directly related to the locations of the big commercial galleries. The galleries need to be in expensive neighborhoods, near rich collectors; the artists want to be able to get to the gallieries easily, but they also need cheap rent.

So when the 57th Street gallerists first started becoming cool-hunters among young and emerging artists decades ago, what followed was a boomlet in Long Island City (take the train from 57th Street the shortest distance across the East River to where inexpensive studio space can be found, and there it is!) and Soho.

And then when lots of gallerists followed their artists down to Soho, Long Island City became a haul. That’s about when the East Village and Lower East Side art scenes took off, and when new concentrations of artists formed along the F line in neighborhoods like Boerum Hill, Carroll Gardens, Red Hook and Gowanus.

Then came West Chelsea, the area around the High Line that boomed in the 1990s, pretty far from any good subway stop except the L train at 14th Street and Eighth Avenue. And before long, artists began to flood the first Brooklyn stop on the L line, Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg.

It’s a new and interesting theory we had never heard before, which is why we’re republishing it here, and Mr. McGeveran goes on to openly question whether or not Bushwick will break these rules, as it already seems to be violating them. In an email, Mr. McGeveran told The Observer that he believes the idea comes from Fate of a Gesture, Carter Ratcliff’s book about Jackson Pollock and the development of postwar American art, much of which took place in the Village.

mchaban [at] | @MC_NYC


  1. Guest says:

    To be clear, Bushwick is about 12 minutes by L train from Union Square, so I don’t know about this remoteness you reference….

    1. Matt Chaban says:

      I guess it depends on whether we’re talking “East Williamsburg” or Bushwick “proper,” around Morgan and Jefferson, which is where all the galleries are and is at least 15 minutes if not more to Union Square. And even then, you have to factor in the ride to there from downtown and uptown, if we’re talking gallery types.

      Though really, they’ll just take their private cars, won’t they?

      1. John Morris says:

        But Bushwick is a new animal since it’s the first place where it’s future is linked to the rest of Brooklyn.

        If and when all the shiny new stuff built and planned in downtown Brooklyn gets full, Bushwick will be pretty close. Same with Williamsburg itself.

        The whole thing does show the total threat to the NY art scene.  Collectors like that feeling they are in the center of where things are being made. It’s a huge part of the sales pitch, which NYC is losing. bushwick is about the last big place, where a whole lot of stuff is still made.

      2. John Morris says:

        Also remember that a vast percent of buyers are now rarely stepping into galleries. Art Fairs now account for a big chunk of sales.

        What that means is that, it’s a bit more about having a brand. Bushwick for now is a hot creative brand.

    2. John Morris says:

      You do know that on weekends and evenings the L, M and J don’t run well? It’s been years of repairs already with little improvement.

      I don’t live there, so I might be a little off.

  2. Literary Man says:

    Bushwick is WAY out there. 12 minutes by L train, maybe, without a single stop. Washington Heights or West Harlem seem like more likely candidates. Close to Upper West Side money and Columbia University.

  3. Bbethany7 says:

    The A and E trains stop at 8th Ave. and 23rd St followed by 14th St. Soho is a neighbourhood
    in London. SoHo is in New York City. I know the E doesn’t go to Brooklyn, but you can switch to the F at West 4th St. 

  4. k.sweeting says:

    McGeveran is absolutely correct, gentrification is a phenomenon of access– no one who can afford to live in Williamsburg works in Williamsburg–and individual establishments like galleries, where customers stay for an hour maximum, don’t drive bodies into a neighborhood. This isn’t a new idea. 
    Also, even deep south Bushwick, out around the Halsey and Gates stops, is only 10 minutes to Essex on the J. We aren’t exactly isolated. 

    1. John Morris says:

      I agree. What this shows is just how much money and power has flowed into all the downtown Manhattan neighborhoods and Williamsburg. At this point a high percent of the rabid contemporary collectors are more likely to live outside of the old Upper East Side area.

      The million dollar question is what comes after this for artists and DYI galleries.  Already it looks like Bushwick is made up of large buildings that wouldn’t be easy to buy.  A few folks are getting long leases but overwhelmingly one feels nobody thinks it can last.

  5. John Morris says:

    Can we also drop another factor in here. Bushwick is about the last large refuge of street art in the city. Clearly this is attracting tourists and hipster types with cameras who want to see some “real NY energy”. Truth is it ain’t so easy to find anymore.

    The whole thing points to the Achiles heal of the NYC Brand.