It’s an interesting question. Can any formerly abuzz creative conurbation survive the loss of its artists and its most creative people? I suspect London is about to find out. I read this article this morning:
In the article, the author cites anecdotal evidence (quite a lot of it) of creative, productive people leaving London, for good, preferring to move to Berlin. The reasons cited are the financial pressures, working life pressures, long hours, the high cost of housing, the low quality of life and poor standard of living, the homogenisation and gentrification of the city and the fact that people wanting to live the London lifestyle are pricing out the people that actually create the circumstances the real estate brochures rave about.
In essence, the root of the problem is that the privileged, rentier class has become way too extractive of the class that actually does the work and creates that artistic buzz. The goose that lays the golden eggs is being strangled.
Why beat yourself to a pulp, work-wise, to merely exist in a tiny, grotty, 10 square metre flat in South East London, when you can work less intensely, doing more of what you want to do with your life and find a place to live that is 100 square metres, for roughly the same money and far less effort? The calculus is unarguable.
Some people think, “Good riddance to the artists and creatives.” Others barely notice or think it won’t matter. We’ll see.
There is a skein of thought that runs through modern British life that seeks to correct and straighten. Liberty, it is thought, must be curtailed. The creatives think otherwise. They know it is the lifeblood of the vitality of a city. Constraining freedom, while building row upon row of identikit, globalised, chain stores and high-rise, glass-fronted apartments, with marble foyers, has all the charm of a corrective institution and none of the character of a creative foment.
Who predicted that the creative uprising would actually be a case of the creative classes rising up off their over-priced office furniture or IKEA sofas and simply leaving the place? It’s a revolution, Jim, but not as we know it. So far, nobody seems to be doing anything practical to retain them or lure them back. We’re haemorrhaging the very source of the ideas that will be precious and needed, to fuel the future economy and nobody bats an eyelid.
In my view, that attractive lifestyle buzz that seems to be the reason that the cost of living in London has risen so inexorably might live on for even a century, in the myths and legends promulgated by tourist advertisements and estate agent descriptions, long after it has ceased to exist in actuality. The flywheel effect will continue and people will continue to pretend there is an artistic, creative buzz in the capital, long after the artists have left. However, the facts are that an entire industry will have been hollowed out. I saw this happen in electronic product design, a few decades ago.
Some predict that London will become, ultimately, an expensive ghost town. There will be no night life to speak of, no interesting, diverse communities to explore and to stimulate the curious, few creative enterprises and no critical mass of innovation and fresh thinking.
What I know about ghost towns, though, is that there is no such thing as an expensive one. Ghost towns are abandoned. Whatever there was of value, in a ghost town, becomes utterly worthless. Everything is discarded and discounted. Nobody wants to be there, at any price. Is that the ultimate fate of Britain’s capital?
Berlin should know. Seventy years ago, it was a city that was purged of its most creative and cutting edge artists. I guess that’s why it’s cheap to live in, now.
We shall see. We live in interesting times.