Gentrification of the Mind

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sarah Schulman, distinguished professor of Humanities at CUNY, Staten Island and author of The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination, looks back on the AIDS crisis and its effect on her life and the arts and politics of her Lower East Side neighborhood.


Sarah Schulman

Comments [56]

NY Gentrified

Another liberal spouting how gentrification is bad. Do we want to live in the 80s where crime, drugs, and gangs in NY were rampant? I remembered going into Chinatown and getting robbed in broad daylight during my childhood in the 80s. My mom would warn me about the dangers of stepping out of the house. Back then, many families wanted to move so their kids could be safe from all the filth and horrors of the city. Yes, gone are the days of the funky music scene that once dominated lower Manhattan. Gone are the days of of the pizzerias that served unbeatable slices of pizza for less than a buck. We all have nostalgia for the past, but we need to go forward as humans are evolving.

Jun. 02 2012 08:40 PM
Uche Ola from NYC

Change is inevitable and one always hopes that it's for the better. Unfortunately, the city has morphed into a suburban mall. The wide societal disparities within NYC are palpable. And the town's homogenization has become extreme. Yes, the diversity of nationalities here is still probably the greatest in the world. But their intermingling is limited to very small domains. Regardless of how this town got to this point, the old NYC of whichever era one belongs to--50's, 60's, 70's, 80's--is not coming back.

Mar. 07 2012 01:04 PM

Most young people who come here now are bland, midwestern frat and sorority types who work in finance and law. take a look at all the frat and faux Irish pubs on 2nd Avenue from 96th Street to the East Village and beyond. These are not the artists of yesteryear. They are the folks who have the resources to live in Manhattan, go to restaurants/bars, and find all the Duane Reades convenient rather than annoying. Other than their consumerism, they contribute nothing to the city. In a few years. most will leave, only to be replaced by others just like them, or perhaps worse.

Yes, young artists can live in Bushwick for now, but eventually they'll have to go too.

Feb. 26 2012 12:41 PM
Jim from Staten Island

I spent alot of time in the late '70's near the Chelsea Public Health Clinic with an epidemiologist. In that pre-AIDS era the Clinic was one of the highest volume STD centers in the country. In December, while looking for Jim Lahey's resturant, Co. on 24th Street, I had to ask locals for directions. I was surprised to encounter a largely young professional population heading home on a Friday night after a stop at Whole Foods.
It wasn't the overtly "hipster" neighborhood I remembered. Prof. Schulman's 80K NYC AIDS mortality statistic at the top of the program stunned me. I would never have made a link between the changed demographics in Chelsea and AIDS w/out this interview. Important work.

Feb. 23 2012 01:17 PM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan


LOL......I'm flattered that you are obsessed with stalking me.
It drives more attention to my posts......... and encourages me.

Feb. 23 2012 01:07 PM
leo from Queens


The guest did not say the city is less diverse. I agree that this city is more minority and diverse than it used to be AND,not mentioned, while crime has gone down.. So minorities are not criminals.

The guest's point is that thinking and behavior and neighborhoods have become more homegenic and isolated and the City is much more segregated then before - We are almost at the Third World model of cities- Very wealthy communities closed in and gated; a small struggling middle class; and a mass of poor people in segregated areas who as much as they work and try to escape are unable to move up the economic ladder as they have no access to effective goverment services (education, transportation, police protection) and are treated with a heavy hand living under the weight of corruption, unresponsiveness and violence from the state. -

Just look at extra judicial executions of an 18 yo for having a small bag of pot or the extra judicial execution of a groom for being roudy in a bar while on a bachelor party..

Feb. 23 2012 12:36 PM
Adam from New Jersey

Is it any doubt that the high point of the culture that New York provided to the world was 1977?

Feb. 23 2012 12:19 PM
Laura from UWS

I grew up in lower Manhattan in the '70's. I miss the NYC I knew. Rent stabilization is the only thing that's kept the hot neighborhoods even remotely interesting.

However, I will say that the subways are much better now; I remember subway cars covered inside and out with graffiti and not the cool kind. I commuted to school and it was truly horrible. Are the benefits of an increased tax base fairly distributed? NO. But there have been improvements in mass transit.

Feb. 23 2012 12:14 PM

...c'mon!!! There's loads of cultural diversity in the "New" New York!!!

We've got incredible ethnic restaurants like The Olive Garden® - it's Eyetalian™... I think...

Feb. 23 2012 12:09 PM

Now... Martin, your homophobia is showing...


Feb. 23 2012 12:06 PM

How many $1.5M one bedroom apartments® do we REALLY need??

Thank you, Mr. Bloomburg™!

Feb. 23 2012 12:04 PM
eric from Bedford-Stuyvesant

I appreciate the host and the guest slowing down and giving thought to this. The guest makes a telling point by noting the huge deficit in public sector funding that doesn't accord with the "increase the tax base" policy. Richest city with the worst public schools. I understand the host's consistent devil's advocate approach or perhaps true incredulousness because it is hard to believe the weight and speed of these migrations and the resulting homogenization. For examply, she mentions Bushwick and Bedford Stuyvesant as exceptions where young artists can live, but these are clear cases of wealth and high income settlement, not art incursion, and that with a marked ethnicity component - ny times notes 633% increase in white population in less than 2 years - while rents stay high. The result is systemic displacement.

Feb. 23 2012 11:54 AM
art525 from Park Slope

I have lived in Park Slope for 30 years and I liked it much better in the old days. Back in the 80s New York Magazine chose it as the most successfully diverse neighborhood in all of New York where everyone got along. Nowadays as Colin Quinn (who grew up here) says "It looks like Switzerland. The black faces you are likely to see are the white kids nannies". That's a little extreme but it has taken on a suburban feel with all the young parents. And those stroller parents stroll around with such an air of superiority and entitlement. I'm a painter. We used to have lots of artists, musicians and actors. Now we have suburban parents. I'm guessing they work in new media.We do have a Starbucks now and an Asian fusion restaurant. And you can get kid cappuchinos.

Feb. 23 2012 11:54 AM

This is totally ridiculous. You can still move to the bronx. East NY is still very affordable, has subways, very diverse and filled with all kinds of interesting artist. Lets just have a giant whine party since we all can't afford to move to downtown manhattan. Are you people even listening to yourselves?

Feb. 23 2012 11:53 AM

Bottom line: NYC is currently one big boring dirty suburb with better bread and pasta.

Feb. 23 2012 11:52 AM

One last thing. I especially like the guest decreeing that everyone in the suburbs is a conformist, security at the expense of life desiring, car driving sheep. Leave NYC much? Talk to anyone unlike you, Ms. Schulman? You're as bad as those you insult, but at least they own their beliefs.

Feb. 23 2012 11:51 AM

No hospitals but, plenty of Starbucks™!

D_g bless Korprate® Amerika!!

...and CheezleWhiz, too!!

Feb. 23 2012 11:51 AM
The Truth from Becky

People migrate all over the country, all of the time, you can live anywhere you are either a native New Yorker by birth or you are NOT!!

Feb. 23 2012 11:51 AM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

@ Ben

Are you talking about actual artists/creative types or hipsters?

Feb. 23 2012 11:51 AM
Sebastien from Philadelphia

I am an Artist and moved to new york in the early 90s straight from Art School.
A year ago I moved to Philadelphia because NY has become a fancy suburb.
I am sad at the homogenous nature of NY now.
I couldn't live in NY anymore even as my life has become more stable and financially secure, because I couldn't accept that my city had become the playground of the rich and a place for suburban kids to change into their suburbs...

Starting with the changes of time square to the complete destruction of ethnic neighborhoods in Manhattan. that the shell of Chinatown still exist is only due to its nonthreatening 'quaintness'.

My NY is long gone, what is left is a fancy shopping center with some dusty corners.

Feb. 23 2012 11:51 AM
James from Manhattan

The reason why gentrification hasn't led to a better tax base is

(1)many of these new higher income workers spend a large amount of their post-tax income on rent and student loans. They can't do much retail spending and it will effect the City's sales tax collection

(2)much of the real estate in the richest areas of the City are owned by individuals and corporations that don't live in the City. The City collects higher real estate tax but they're not collecting any income or sales taxes and they're not contributing to the economy of the city since they're not here.

(3)the City has given away BILLIONS in tax breaks and subsidies to big businesses.

Feb. 23 2012 11:50 AM
Jennifer from NYC

Terrific interview - Veronica from Brooklyn hit nail on head. Not just NYC but everywhere. Fixing it might require starting with the city, though.

Feb. 23 2012 11:49 AM

New York is still very diverse. I grew up on the egdes of an Italian and Jewish neighborhoods. A bus/trin ride I'm in Chinatown Little Brazil, etc. What are we talking about? I now live in Missouri where there is no diversity.

Feb. 23 2012 11:49 AM
grace from uws

Don't forget the role of rapacious co-op sponsors and the lack of scrutiny of co-op plans on the part of the A/G's office in the gentrification process.

Feb. 23 2012 11:49 AM
Leo from queens

Andrea, you should listen to Sarah. She was right on!. This 'additional' tax base IS NOT going to public services.

You should know better than most that most of the tax funding for public transit has been diverted for other things while the burden is passed on to commuters while transit is being reduced.

Have you taken a look at the current property tax distortions that exist today?

Just take a look at the records in Queens where new crappy construction with more units are paying ONE FOURTH the RE taxes then someone like me..

I currently pay more in RE taxes for a coop in queens than Alex Rodriguez pays for a luxury apt in Manhattan which he pays for on an inflated salary that is subsidized by the tax payer and plays in a stadium subsidized by the taxpayer.
If you don't see the distortions and redistribution of wealth for the connected then you need to get out of the station and start looking at the data out there.

Feb. 23 2012 11:49 AM

Hospitals are failing because almost two thirds of the patients are Medicare or Medicaid. Ask anyone who works at a hospital, and they'll tell you for community hospitals to succeed they need to attract privately insured patients

Feb. 23 2012 11:48 AM



Feb. 23 2012 11:48 AM
art525 from Park Slope

Jgarbuz- It sure seems to me that your comment cdould be filed under whiny complaining. I would say that regarding all this "whining by liberals" with it. Life is unfair. And you can always go over to Fox and listen to all the whining by Rush and Beck and all those blatering complainers. You'd probably be much happier there.

Feb. 23 2012 11:47 AM
licnyc from queens

What total utter drivel. I remember the city in the 80s and the artist who had no money didn't make this a happy la la land this woman seems to think it was. I remember a woman who had to walk out of the lower east in labor because cabs wouldn't go there. Someone please tell this woman all the "artist" who deserver free luxury housing should move to fantasy land with her.

Feb. 23 2012 11:47 AM
Grant from Harlem

I think Sarah Shulman would be more effective if she changed her tone. Question for her, does she want another collapse or a total financial collapse? So real estate prices would drop and people in finance would struggle?

Feb. 23 2012 11:47 AM

NYC has become an amusement park where the price of admission is $150,000 a year.


And, very sad.

Feb. 23 2012 11:47 AM

Definitely agree with the current caller about the edge factor in NYC being way way down. Fewer artists and artistic work, way more hyper-controlled spaces, less interesing. very good point.

Feb. 23 2012 11:46 AM

I find it pretty obnoxious how this lady on the air can speak without a hint of irony in regard to a "there goes the neighborhood" mentality; and it's okay because it's upper-middle-class 'white' people she's speaking about pejoratively. It's just racist. If she were speaking about any other 'ethnic' or class group ruining a neighborhood and killing the local spirits with its very presence, she'd be shamed.

Feb. 23 2012 11:46 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

PLEASE refrain from calling straight people "BREEDERS".

....and we won't call gays 'non-breedeng non-contributors to society"

Gays use this like the "N" word.

All straight people don't parent and not all gay people don't parent.

Feb. 23 2012 11:44 AM
Inquisigal from Brooklyn

Eh, young artists can still come here and afford to if they have hustle. What, they're supposed to just be able to not work and survive making art because they call themselves an artist? I came of age in the early 90's, lived in the city, and as a writer and filmmaker worked 2 paying jobs, not related to my creative endeavors, to pay my rent. I still had time to work on my projects. Young people can rent places in Bushwick, Bed Stuy, and northern Manhattan and still pay $600 each.

That said, I do agree this city has changed in its vibe and attitude - it's very, very consumer-oriented, and the influx of wealth and wealthy people changes the dynamic and types of entertainment options, retail and restaurants. It's sadly ironic that there's more wealth in the city, yet many long-standing arts-organizations cannot continue to fund their ventures. We can partly blame our Mayor for branding this city as a playpen of the wealthy and their children.

Feb. 23 2012 11:43 AM
Atticus Kain from East Harlem

I moved to NYC from Miami, FL in June 2010. I've only visited NYC twice (for two weekends) before my move. I did not know anyone and had no relatives. I'm a somewhat established songwriter but doesn't have income from it. Still I was able to find a job (went through two jobs before I settled at my current position), a music internship, and (a year and few months after my move)my own place by November, 2011 (in East Harlem - yes, I am a 'gentrify-er'). It it/has been hard but the notion that creative types can't afford the NYC (something that was constantly repeated to me before my move) is not true in my experience. I am still in school getting my BA so without a high school diploma in the middle of a recession I think my story shows that creative types will always be drawn to NYC and will make the best of their situations.

Feb. 23 2012 11:43 AM
Leo from queens

Thanks Martin.. you are right.. This is like Paris and London that are highly segregated. But I think we are heading more to the Brazil model where the state/police violence against the poor is more sustained..

Just look at the increase in the number of extra judicial executions being carried out by the police while our political 'leaders' ignore the violence.

Feb. 23 2012 11:43 AM

Come to Brooklyn, neighborhoods that were Italian are now more Asian / Russian. Staten Island is busting at the seams with all those italians. Dominicans uptown no diversity? I see gentricifaction is a positive force, more shops better housing. Sure starving artists can't make as easily as they did. They all moved to Portland!

Feb. 23 2012 11:41 AM

Aren't the young creative types that can't afford to live in New York exactly the people who are gentrifying neighborhoods like Bushwick?

Feb. 23 2012 11:41 AM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

Is the city less diverse? I don't think so, it seems there is more diversity as different races and cultures. Not sure how she is defining "diversity" Would be nice if the host would ask her that.

Is the city segregated? Most definitely, no question.

Has the city lost some of it's character? Definitely. And the city has become extremely hard for artists and other creative people to survive here which makes it a less friendly place for such people, which is killing the city's character, making it more sterile, etc.

Plus, some areas have become a little strip mall like which of course lessens the character and uniqueness of New York.

Feb. 23 2012 11:40 AM

On the Upper West Side, where I've lived since 1969, Mitchell-Lama buildings were examples of completely integrated housing. Now that the housing is all being privatized, the people moving out are primarily those of color, as the neighborhood whitens.

As a white woman with an Indian husband, it was important for my family to live in a multi-racial neighborhood. Our Mitchell-Lama was a haven - but now privatized, it is becoming less so.

Finally, I can't understand why those with AIDS who can't work are not getting the same "affordable housing" subsidy (paying no more than 1/3 of their income) as other people in difficult straits.

Feb. 23 2012 11:40 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Listening to these constantly whining Liberals makes me sick! Just a bunch of dissatisfied malcontents who will never be content to leave things well enough alone. That the media thinks that constant whining has entertainment value. Well, I'm sick of listening to 60 years of non-stop whining by Liberals. Life is unfair; deal with it.

Feb. 23 2012 11:40 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan


No, think Paris and London in 2012.

Feb. 23 2012 11:40 AM
The Truth from Becky

Caller: Gentrification is "a good thing" depending which side of the the coin you are on!! When you are pushing out the existing resident, making the area unaffordable it is NOT "a good thing"

Feb. 23 2012 11:39 AM
Edward from NJ

To accept this premise is to accept that New York City is only Manhattan.

Feb. 23 2012 11:39 AM
Kim from NYC

The last caller has no idea of the structural and institutional factors that limit the options of many individuals, especially those living in low-income neighborhoods. That concept of 'personal responsibility' yeah..It's not that simple man.

Feb. 23 2012 11:38 AM
Evan from New York, NY

Ms. Schulman is basically ignoring facts to prove her thesis. The host mentioned the problems with the subway in the 1970s-1980s, and Ms. Schulman mentioned her bus line.

I remember in the 1970s being unable to walk from 86th and CPW to 86th and Columbus alone for fear of being mugged. I'm not sure that losing that is so bad.

I agree that something is lost when neighborhoods become too expensive, but let's not idealize the city of the 70s.

Feb. 23 2012 11:38 AM
Kelly from Hamilton Heights

The host just compared apples and oranges. The improvement of the subways had nothing to do with gentrification... it had to do with the subway system being converted to a public/private corporation.

Feb. 23 2012 11:37 AM
Leo from queens

This is a great topic and the guest is very knowledgeable.

it is sad that we are seeing a City that is highly segregated with very wealthy and very poor and a police state repressing minorities and the poor- (Think Rio de Janeiro,Sao Paulo in the 80's/90's)

She makes an excellent point about the reduction in public transit and the distortion in the tax base.. Though we have more VERY wealthy people, we don't necessarily have an increased tax base since we have huge subsidies being provided to Real Estate developers and the rich and also though we have more wealthy people we also have more poor people working minimum wage. So our tax base has declined because we have a dying middle class

Feb. 23 2012 11:36 AM

Is it a supply demand problem for housing? Land is at a premium. Thus who has money to build, the rich. I remember the transit system in the 70 & 80s it was BAD.

Feb. 23 2012 11:36 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

Gee, I didn't know that straight white people were a threat to our neighborhoods.

Imagine if someone posted that about other groups!

Feb. 23 2012 11:34 AM
telegram sam from staten island

No doubt the city has changed since the 80s, but this is nonsense. The city has never been more diverse, by any measure. The guest is basing her thesis on her own observations and experiences and has nothing to do with actual demographics.

Feb. 23 2012 11:33 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

This is nonsense.
Schulman wants it HER way with just enough perversity to satisfy her....but no more.
...and NO SMOKING !!!!!

Feb. 23 2012 11:30 AM
Dick Van Dijk from Breuckelen

afd: You remember the New York of 300 years ago?!!

Feb. 23 2012 11:29 AM

Happened so fast. Before happily moving out I cursed Guilliani but I don't know if he deserves all the blame, the city is so much prettier now but it's a new place, certainly not NYC of the last 300 years, a place i miss so much

Feb. 23 2012 11:21 AM

Not sure the creativity is gone but certain aspects of NYC life that contributed to creativity in say the 1970's have changed. Thinking specifically about the mix of communities, income levels, and industries. For instance SOHO was an industrial area and if memory servers some of Richard Sera's early work was done with discarded industrial scrap materials found on the street.

Feb. 23 2012 11:07 AM

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