Why People Want to Live in Arty Neighborhoods

The pattern is widely recognized: the artists move into a sketchy neighborhood and make it cool. The people who love the cool stuff move in. Once their neighborhood becomes fashionable, the artists can’t afford to live there any more, and the neighborhood loses what made it cool to begin with. It has happened over and over in the cities of America, and certainly in San Francisco.

The question of why artists make neighborhoods desirable is complex. It begins with their visual presence, because they fill their environments with things no one has ever seen before—but their terrain doesn’t often have the polish of what is usually called beautiful.

Last week I wrote about the lure of the bohemian milieu and its therapeutic acceptance of difference, and this is one of the biggest factors drawing people to arty environs. But perhaps the one thing that makes arty neighborhoods attractive is something that can’t be seen. It’s about an invisible energy that passes between people, every minute of every day.

Consider the human environment you live in. What kind of energy do you want around you? Do you really want to surround yourself with people who are avaricious and exploitative? No, of course not. You want to have people around you who want to make the quality of life better. Every encounter we have with every person transmits a reaction of happiness, irritation, contempt, adoration, amusement, or whatever. You get intangible feelings of goodwill, disinterest, or malice from every person you meet. In an artistic milieu, it’s all about goodwill; you’re in a place where your neighbors just want to give you something you will really love.

Consider what the artist does. No one goes into the arts because they want to get rich. The odds are stacked against it from the get-go. Artists, musicians, and writers do what they do because they want to create something you will love. Their basic desire is to give you some new experience, to dredge their souls to produce something that will resonate in yours. They want to write books you can’t put down, music you can’t get out of your head or that makes you want to dance. They want to make movies you will want to watch a hundred times. They want to paint the pictures that you want to look at every day on your walls. They want to give you things your really enjoy, and knowing they’ve done that is almost better than money. All the things they want are good for the quality of your life.

In the process of creating that thing to give the world, artists are generally preoccupied with pulling their artistic visions from their inner depths. They may not be thinking about gifting you with some pleasurable thing, but that’s what they’re doing. Creative people don’t make a point of fashioning something that everyone will hate. It would be the last straw in their financial demise. They deeply desire the creation of something that the world will love, or at least a fraction of the world, and of course they desire, by sheer necessity, the rewards that such appreciation will bring.

Not everyone will love the work of every artist, and that’s what individual taste is about. But who doesn’t like being in an environment where what people around you want is for you to have a great experience? Even if you never meet the writer next door, that person is trying to fashion something for the world, and you are one of that writer’s potentially happy recipients.

Without planning to intentionally, artists improve the quality of life for others imperceptibly with the essence of gifting that is integral to their lives. Between that and the freedom of their bohemian communities, it’s no small wonder that people want to live where the arty people are. And as a result, it’s no surprise that the artists will eventually be driven out.

The solution is to not ghettoize creative people, but to make places for them in every corner of the city, putting pockets of their energy everywhere. Art Houses will consolidate that people-pleasing energy of the creative personality into community beacons, and make it public through Art House cafes, performance spaces, galleries, stores, and services. Diffusing the energy of creativity can raise the overall sense of well being of the city. Creating spaces where people in every neighborhood can partake of that essence makes the Art Houses sustainable and the neighborhood more interesting. That should put an end to neighborhoods losing their artistic quality; rather than losing it, they would all gain it instead.