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