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June 16, 2008

Richard Florida

The End of Bohemia?

« The Shape of Things to Come | Main | Quality of Place »

Bohemia Christopher Hitchens in Vanity Fair:

It isn’t possible to quantify the extent to which society and culture are indebted to Bohemia. In every age in every successful country, it has been important that at least a small part of the cityscape is not dominated by bankers, developers, chain stores, generic restaurants, and railway terminals. This little quarter should instead be the preserve of—in no special order—insomniacs and restaurants and bars that never close; bibliophiles and the little stores and stalls that cater to them; alcoholics and addicts and deviants and the proprietors who understand them; aspirant painters and musicians and the modest studios that can accommodate them; ladies of easy virtue and the men who require them; misfits and poets from foreign shores and exiles from remote and cruel dictatorships. Though it should be no disadvantage to be young in such a quartier, the atmosphere should not by any means discourage the veteran. It was Jean-Paul Sartre who to his last days lent the patina to the Saint-Germain district of Paris, just as it is Lawrence Ferlinghetti, last of the Beats, who by continuing to operate his City Lights bookstore in San Francisco’s North Beach still gives continuity with the past ...

Those who don’t live in such threatened districts nonetheless have a stake in this quarrel and some skin in this game, because on the day when everywhere looks like everywhere else we shall all be very much impoverished, and not only that but—more impoverishingly still—we will be unable to express or even understand or depict what we have lost.

The rest is here (h/t: Brian Knudsen). Photo from Vanity Fair.

Whenever these issues come up, I recall what Jane Jacobs once said to me: "When a place gets boring, even the rich people leave."


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hayden fisher

Love it!!

Michael Wells

When I first moved to New York in the early '60's people were talking about the end of the Village, how it had become an expensive tourist site and the "real bohemians" were moving to the Lower East Side, East of 2nd avenue and around Tomkins Square (it wasn't called the East Village yet). I suspect that they were saying the same things in the 1920's. Short term the boring rich may take over, but cities and neighborhoods live in cycles. As long as they keep the small scale buildings and narrow streets, especially in the old Village West of 6th Avenue, the area will keep its charm and come back.


Herbert Muschamp once told me that when he first moved to NYC, he came across an organization with a name something like the "South of Houston (SoHo) Manufacturers and Warehouse Association." They were trying to protect SoHo from the incursion of artists and bohemians! Cycles - just like Jane said. But the cycles can and do jump from neighborhood to neighborhood and occasionally from city-to-city. The latest edition of Monocle is pointing to the possible emerging next, new global scenes. My hunch is that as much as high rents and development "hurt" NYC, the real issue is restrictive US policies toward immigration and a declining relative creative climate in today's global world.

Michael Wells


One of the first places I lived in NYC was a loft at Chambers and West Broadway (now SoHo). We sublet from a painter, and living in the commercial loft was illegal. We had to sneak our garbage into the public trash cans, and took an old freight elevator up to the fourth floor. Didn't have a phone. But the manufacturers and warehouse assn. was fighting a losing battle, the lofts were probably 1,000 sq ft, much too small for manufacturing at the time.

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