On May 5, musician Patti Smith was asked what advice she had for young people trying to make it in New York City. The long-time New Yorker's take? Get out. "New York has closed itself off to the young and the struggling," she said. "New York City has been taken away from you."
Smith was not the only New Yorker to reject the city that had nurtured artists for decades. In October, musician David Byrne argued that "the cultural part of the city - the mind - has been usurped by the top 1 percent". Under Michael Bloomberg, New York's first billionaire mayor, homelessness and rent both soared, making one of the world's centres of creative and intellectual life unliveable for all but the richest.
At play, notes Byrne, was more than a rise in the cost of living. It was a shift in the perceived value of creativity, backed by an assumption that it must derive from and be tied to wealth. "A culture of arrogance, hubris and winner-take-all was established," he recalls. "It wasn't cool to be poor or struggling. The bully was celebrated and cheered."
New York - and San Francisco, London, Paris and other cities where cost of living has skyrocketed - are no longer places where you go to be someone. They are places you live when you are born having arrived. They are, as journalist Simon Kuper puts it, "the vast gated communities where the one percent reproduces itself".
There are exceptions in these cities, but they tend to survive by serving the rule. The New York Times recently profiled Sitters Studio, a company that sends artists and musicians into the homes of New York's wealthiest families to babysit their children. "The artist-as-babysitter can be seen as a form of patronage," suggests the Times, "in which lawyers, doctors and financiers become latter-day Medicis."
This is the New York artist today: A literal servant to corporate elites, hired to impart "creativity" to children whose bank accounts outstrip their own.
The Times explains the need for the company as follows: "Parents keep hearing that, in the cutthroat future, only the creative will survive." The "creative" will survive - but what of creativity? Enterprises like Sitters Studio posit creativity as commodification: A taught skill that bolsters business prowess for tiny corporate heirs.
Creativity - as an expression of originality, experimentation, innovation - is not a viable product. It has been priced out into irrelevance - both by the professionalisation of the industries that claim it, and the soaring cost of entry to those professions.
The "creative class" is a frozen archetype - one that does not boost the economy of global cities, as urban studies theorist Richard Florida argues, but is a product of their takeover by elites. The creative class plays by the rules of the rich, because those are the only rules left. Adaptation is a form of survival. But adaptation is a form of abandonment as well.
Perhaps it is time to reject the 'gated citadels' - the cities powered by the exploitation of ambition, the cities where so much rides on so little opportunity.