From The Wall Street Journal today, an article titled Artists vs. Blight. This is a complex topic that deserves more than a smart-assy treatment on a Friday morning. But for now, let's just read some of the article.
Last month, artists Michael Di Liberto and Sunia Boneham moved into a two-story, three-bedroom house in Cleveland's Collinwood neighborhood, where about 220 homes out of 5,000 sit vacant and boarded up. They lined their walls with Ms. Boneham's large, neon-hued canvases, turned a spare bedroom into a graphic-design studio and made the attic a rehearsal space for their band, Arte Povera.
The couple used to live in New York, but they were drawn to Cleveland by cheap rent and the creative possibilities of a city in transition. "It seemed real alive and cool," said Mr. Di Liberto.
Their new house is one of nine previously foreclosed properties that a local community development corporation bought, some for as little as a few thousand dollars. The group aims to create a 10-block "artists village" in Collinwood, with residences for artists like Mr. Di Liberto, 31 years old, and Ms. Boneham, 34.
Artists have long been leaders of an urban vanguard that colonizes blighted areas. Now, the current housing crisis has created a new class of urban pioneer. Nationwide, home foreclosure proceedings increased 81% in 2008 from the previous year, rising to 2.3 million, according to California-based foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac. Homes in hard-hit cities such as Detroit and Cleveland are selling for as little as $1.
Drawn by available spaces and cheap rents, artists are filling in some of the neighborhoods being emptied by foreclosures. City officials and community groups seeking ways to stop the rash of vacancies are offering them incentives to move in, from low rents and mortgages to creative control over renovation projects.
"Artists have become the occupiers of last resort," said Robert McNulty, president of Partners for Livable Communities, a Washington-based nonprofit organization. "The worse things get, the more creative you have to become."
Artists have flocked to, and improved, blighted areas for decades -- for example, New York's SoHo and Williamsburg, parts of Baltimore and Berlin, Germany. They often get displaced once gentrification begins. But now, since real estate has hit rock bottom in many places, artists with little equity and sometimes spotty credit history have a chance to become stakeholders, economists and urban planners say.
And, for the record, I like Cleveland. My cousin moved there.