My musing from friday about recessions and their cultural consequences has been picked up in a few places. It’s been republished both in today’s Crikey and over at Larvatus Prodeo. Further to that post, I’ve been thinking a little more about the implications of the global financial crisis on our cities and our cultural life…
The decline of manufacturing created a whole new aesthetic and required the reinvention of a whole range of places and spaces. Think how rare it is to see the word “warehouse” actually refer to a warehouse and not bundled with real estate speak like “funky” or “apartment” or “loft” or “studios”? Remember when warehouses were spaces where people made and distributed things?
Warehouses were infrastructure built for something that we don’t do very much of anymore. They ultimately became redudant and cheap and surplus. Then they were reluctantly reinvented with a new life and a new meaning.
The biggest industries around which our city centres are built today has nothing to do with factories and warehouses – it’s finance. A quick look at the signs on the buildings in any CBD reveals an abundance of banks, brokers, investment houses, and their associated entities.
Think for a second about what a sharp contraction in the finance sector could mean for our cities.
“Financial crisis” may or may not mean financial oblivion – after all the “death of manufacturing” in the west didn’t quite mean “death” so much as “partial, slow, sporadic, and often catastrophic decline.” The current pattern that dominates our cities is very much subject to change just now. Finance is the dominant force in almost every CBD. It wouldn’t take a huge number of layoffs, mergers, downsizings and contractions to punch some pretty large holes in our urban fabric.
Not all that long ago that warehouses were considered most unlikely places in which to create or live. Today developers and real estate agents are so intent on building and badging warehouses that the phrase has become the worst kind of chic lifestyle cliche. An entire generation has almost forgotten the original meaning.
What might that mean for our cities from here? Cubicle galleries? Trading room apartments? Executive experimental performance suites? Board room bars? Anyone?
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