Dilemmas of the nightlife fix: post-industrialization and the gentrification of nightlife in New York City
From Urban Studies
Nightlife has an important role in the enhancement of the city and for the promotion of gentrification in derelict neighborhoods. Looking back to Misrahi, a developer-cum-landlord of several buildings in the Lower East Side of New York City In the mid 1990s, he rented out 18 vacant storefronts on one street to bars, restaurants and counter-cultural performance clubs, which he expected to “bring in the hipsters and change the neighborhood”. Indeed, it is evident that within a decade, Misrahi and other similar landlords were successful. The process brought with itself condominium apartments and boutiques for new residents, known often as ‘yuppies’. By helping to create a hipster ‘vibe’ through the encouragement of nightlife businesses, Misrahi had created fertile ground for gentrification in a neighborhood that had not yet attracted the attentions of real estate developers. It is observed however that once gentrification settles in, nightlife businesses have been pushed out of the very neighborhoods that they helped to market as interesting to outsiders. This paper details this contradictory process in which this approach, together with rising property values and the tastes of newly transplanted yuppie populations, has reshaped nightlife into a cluster of more upmarket or corporate establishments, while marginalizing underfunded clubs that are often related to alternative and experimental sub-cultures. This transformation also signifies that, in post-industrializing and gentrifying cities, certain nightlife cultures are more valorized than others and that cities are increasingly left with a narrowing scope of nightlife cultures.
This article recognizes a need to provide a critical appraisal of the ways in which academics and governmental officials have, explicitly or not, promoted the gentrification of nightlife and what important aspects of our social and cultural life have been lost through this process. This effort will add an important dimension to ‘the right to the city’ movements, which have largely focused on the right to affordable housing, social services and public space, but very little on the disappearance of important sub-cultural spaces in cities.
In recent years, nightlife has been increasingly recognized as an important resource for the enhancement of the post-industrial profile of the city and for the promotion of gentrification in derelict neighborhoods. It projects an image of a vibrant social and cultural life, considered particularly appealing to the young professional labor force of post-industrial sectors, the members of whom are particularly apt to consider moving to the city. However, the advocates of this ‘nightlife fix’ thesis ignore tensions that have emerged between residents in gentrifying neighborhoods and nightlife businesses due to the nuisance effects of the latter. Using the example of New York City, this paper examines how conflicts over nightlife in gentrifying neighborhoods have resulted in the gentrification of nightlife and have thus transformed the nature of the city’s nightlife itself.
Hae, L. (2011). Dilemmas of the Nightlife Fix: Post-industrialization and the Gentrification of Nightlife in New York City Urban Studies DOI: 10.1177/0042098011400772