Florida vs Hamburg

A little while ago I came across a manifesto called Not In Our Name, Marke Hamburg (Sign and Sight has an English translation). In this manifesto a group of 200 artists/squaters criticise their supposed role in the cycle of life of their city, Hamburg. Using artists as tools to ‘spice up’ a city leads to gentrification, they say.

As you probably know, Florida describes how ‘bohemians’ plays an important part in city regeneration. By investing themselves in less popular neighbourhoods they create neighbourhoods that are attractive to the larger creative class. The increase in social capital eventually leads to an increase in property value. Which ironically forces out the artists, as they can no longer pay rent, so they move to another neighbourhood where rent is cheap, and the cycle of economic segregation continues.

When Der Spiegel confronted Florida with the manifesto, he apparently shrugs it off. He says:

“I’ve never talked about marketing in any of my books. And I don’t want to provide any recipes for gentrification.”

While he doesn’t advocate gentrification, it can be argued that he has a stake in this debate. I’d say that gentrification was already part of the cycle of city life, and that by making this proces explicit through his studies, Florida has become a player in this debate. He can’t just say “don’t shoot the messenger”.

So what should we do with this insight?

It’s here, where observation shifts to ideology, that a next step is necessary. Florida’s ideology has created a paradoxical situation where the bohemians are recognised for the value they bring, but this value is only measured economically. This was not the recognition the artists sought. To artists, true recognition would mean adopting their notion of value.

The partial recognition has a weird effect in Hamburg: it seems that the regenerative cycle has been broken. The artists don’t want to move anymore, they want to stay and make a stand. This could be a great opportunity for them, as they have everything they need: a cheap place in the center of town, and, most surprising to them, the listening ear of the local government. This might allow them to stay there indefinately.

Until now Florida’s insight into how the cycle works has led Hamburg strengthen the cycle, trying to optimise its effects. Perhaps instead the cycle should be broken? It will be interesting to keep an eye on Hamburg to see how this stand-off develops.

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Tijmen Schep

Tijmen Schep (1981) is a Dutch theorist on new media and digital culture, focussing on wireless media and public space. This theorizing is brought to life in the NetNiet.org foundation which promotes wireless media art by organising wireless festivals and events.

Boss at www.pineapplejazz.com
Founding member of www.netniet.org
Artistic director of www.setup.nl