Saturday, November 22, 2008

Rust Belt Chic: Hamilton, Ontario

Artists are one of the most geographically fickle demographics. Acting as urban pioneers, they seem to migrate from one gentrification project to the next. Usually, this talent flow is from one neighborhood to the next within the same city. But there is some indication coming from Toronto that cool cities may be tapped out of diamond-in-the-rough opportunity, opening the door to Rust Belt Chic:

But how far will artists go for large, bright, cheap studio space? Will they stick to the romance of subway and streetcar lines or will they board buses, too?

It depends on the type of art they're creating, Adam Thom says.

"Sculpture can't travel very easily," explains the architect, who started his professional life creating large, kinetic metal sculpture. While those engaged in "quiet" art, such as painting, can work in an apartment or house given enough space and light, the hammering, cutting, grinding and welding necessary to shape and connect metal would wake the neighbours should inspiration strike at 3 a.m. So sculptors may travel a little further for the privilege of isolation and the practicality of concrete floors (a must over hardwood floors for safety reasons, Mr. Thom points out).

And while artists need the city for "cross-pollination," it's also possible that certain groups may see value in Scarborough's Kingston Road strip between Fallingbrook Road and Warden Avenue, Mr. Thom says. "They have keener noses about these things.

"Artists see rich urban grit before developers and gentrifiers can; they're often the ones that find cool bars."

Perhaps, in years to come, other pockets of inner-ring, 1950s suburbia — Caledonia Road, north and south of Lawrence Avenue West, Scarborough's former "golden mile of industry" along Eglinton Avenue East, or Progress Avenue near Highway 401 — will become viable options. And because these areas aren't subway-adjacent with spectacular views of the downtown skyline, they may resist gentrification for decades … perhaps forever.

Some artists may abandon Toronto altogether and head for what could become our version of Brooklyn. Hamilton, with its city amenities, expansive industrial areas and incredibly low real estate prices may blossom, says Mr. Thom. Unfortunately, since it's doubtful StatsCan will ever be able to track a massive art-brain-drain to Steeltown, Toronto may not notice until it's too late.

When it comes to "rich urban grit," the Rust Belt is king. Artists and other creative types who come to Pittsburgh often complain that this urban backwater just doesn't have all the amenities they have come to love and found in their previous location (e.g. NYC). But as the community grows, needs are soon filled:

Pittsburgh’s local writers are no exception. Its art community is steadily growing, and new venues for the artsy, eclectic, and uber-talented are popping up all over the City of Steel. Where there once was a shortage of places the aforementioned creative bohemian crowd could gather and get inspired, share and discuss books and art, and write and create, there are now a number of establishments to choose from. Below are two of Pittsburgh’s best kept secrets.

Pittsburgh is a difficult city to get to know. That is a big part of its charm. Artists from other places are just beginning to discover these mysteries. "Developers and gentrifiers" are sure to follow. If you are eying Lawrenceville, then you are too late. The neighborhood hopscotch has already begun (Greenfield seems to be the new hot spot).

As Pittsburgh goes down the road Toronto has already traveled, what might emerge as the next Hamilton? Youngstown.


The Urbanophile said...

Modern Art Notes blogger Tyler Green was asked about artists headed to the Rust Belt in search of cheaper rents. He didn't see it happening. One problem: unlike in NYC or LA, people in these Rust Belt cities don't have a strong tradition of buying art.

Jim Russell said...

Do you have a link to Green's comments? I find it hard to believe that Pittsburgh (or other cities like it) doesn't have a strong tradition of art patronage. Regardless, there exists at least anecdotal evidence that artists are headed to the Rust Belt.

Green's analysis strikes me as deeply flawed.

The Urbanophile said...

Supposedly the talk was recorded and will be posted online. But there is no transcript. This site has more details on his talk:

I was there and the excerpt from that blog posting more or less captures it. He gave the reasons at the end as to why artists congregate in NYC and LA, and he believes cost is not the major factor as especially in LA there is cheap studio space available. He doesn't see a mass migration to the interior.

“I hate that big parts of America are left out of the art world.”: Green said that New York is not the be-all, end-all. Other places can be just as important. Green cited the IMA’s new “kick ass” Robert Irwin light installation saying, “It might be the best Irwin installed anywhere in America.” In the Q&A portion of his talk, Green went on to explain that in order for arts to flourish in a city, art schools, available studio space, people who buy art as part of the culture, and tremendous museum collections as visual community are all needed.

RoboticGhost said...

Adopted Greenfield son here. I sort of wonder exactly what is happening in Greenfield these days. Real estate has been hot here. I can't find specific figures that I trust, but anecdotally for sale signs seem to go up and then disapear in short order. I've seen signs get sale pending flags go on the same day the signs go up. I also have noticed how dramatically my bus rides into town have changed. 10 years ago there were plenty of seats to be had; me, a handful of legal secretaries, some security gaurds and fast food workers. Greenfielders didn't have town jobs. They worked construction and in machine shops. They still do of course, and fine folks they are. But a minority constituency of expatriate suburban professionals have taken root. Which makes sense if you think about it. Greenfield is about as ideally situated a neighborhood as you could ask for in Pittsburgh. Minutes from town, Oakland, the Waterfront, and Squirrel Hill, Greenfield is safe, well built and quiet in the residential areas.

That said I wonder about greenfield's potential for further development. It is a bedroom community with a boatload of hills and limited commercial zones. The neighborhood bars and businesses are tolerant with an entrenched native element that gives ya all the urban gritty ya need but without enough of a footprint in my opinion. I don't know. I just don't see enough of a "destination" potential in Greenfield to suspect a lawrenceville-like transformation taking place. Not to spread any doom and gloom for my 'hood, someday down the road we could be talking about how some other neighborhood experiencing a Greenfield style revolution, but my money's on something much different than we've seen in Larryville.

Sorry for any typos. I'm on my iPod. In a greenfield bar.