Brian Byrne: The Rich Are Wrecking New York Culture

City becoming ‘pleasure domes for your rich, ‘ singer writes in op-ed

New York is in danger of losing what remains of its creative soul as the wealthiest one percent usurp the cultural resources that once produced the city “a repository of concepts and information, ” David Byrne writes in an op-ed piece pertaining to Creative Time Reports.


The singer, songwriter and former Speaking Heads frontman describes New York being a body and a mind. While he applauds improvements to the body – a historic reduction in crime, along with initiatives including bike lanes, recreational areas and upgraded public transportation – he is less optimistic about the overall health from the organism, writing, “The cultural portion of the city – the mind – continues to be usurped by the top one percent. ”


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Rather than serve as an incubator for musicians, writers, dancers, actors, filmmakers and artists, “most of Manhattan and many parts of Brooklyn are virtual walled communities, pleasure domes for the rich (which, full disclosure, includes me), and apart from those of us who managed years ago to find our niche and some means of revenue, there is no room for fresh innovative types, ” Byrne writes.


Once New York was hub of creative industry, Byrne writes, and a city where struggles were worth the tradeoff for being part of the electric bustle of a vibrant metropolis. That has changed, in his watch, as the city becomes less accommodating to the middle class.


“A culture of selfishness, hubris and winner-take-all was established, ” he writes. “It was not cool to be poor or struggling. The bully was celebrated plus cheered. The talent pool grew to become a limited resource for any industry, other than Wall Street. ”


As the “arty types” have had increasing difficulty finding jobs, the rich financiers have taken over. Byrne notes their monetary contributions to civic institutions such as museums plus symphony halls. “But it’s like funding your own clubhouse, ” he writes. “It doesn’t exactly do much for the rest of us or for your general health of the city. At least, we might sigh, they do that, as they don’t pay taxes – that we know. ”


Because New York comes to resemble cities like Abu Dhabi or Honk Kong, it’s losing something vital, Byrne adds. “Those places might have museums, but they don’t have culture. Ugh. In case New York goes there – a lot more than it already has – I’m leaving. ”


Where he’ll go is a query he’s unable to answer – “Join the expat hipsters upstate in Hudson? ” – but he finishes with a wish for the city to right its course. “The bodily improvements are happening – though much of the crumbling infrastructure still needs fixing. If the social plus economic situation can be addressed, we’re midway there. It really could be a model of steps to make a large, economically sustainable and creatively energetic city. I want to live in that town. ”

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