David Byrne believes, “the cultural part of the city—the mind—has been usurped by the top 1 percent.” Byrne speaks of New York City, of course; a city he made home during the mid-1970s and still resides in today. In an essay he wrote for Creative Time Reports, he notes that while the “body” of Manhattan has been vastly improved upon — reduction in crime, cleaner parks, upgraded transportation — the overall health of New York City is in dire need of help. Once brimming with creative inspiration for musicians, writers, dancers, actors, filmmakers and artists, the “city that never sleeps” has become a void, transforming into what Byrne described as a playground for citizens endowed with a large bankroll.
“If young, emerging talent of all types can’t find a foothold in this city, then it will be a city closer to Hong Kong or Abu Dhabi than to the rich fertile place it has historically been,” explains Byrne. “Those places might have museums, but they don’t have culture. Across the East River in Brooklyn, rent is soaring and comparable to that of Manhattan, with average rent in Brooklyn costing around $3,035/month as recently as this past July, eerily close to Manhattan’s $3,822 per month.
This is far from the New York City Byrne emigrated to decades ago, and where he rose to fame as a member of Talking Heads. Hardships like no heat in a cheap loft were worth it, he said, at least for a time. “New York was legendary. It was where things happened,… As one gets a little older, those hardships aren’t so romantic—they’re just hard. The tradeoff begins to look like a real pain in the a** if one has been here for years and years and is barely eking out a living.”
If the current state of affairs doesn’t change, where will the creative types go to make a living without becoming a literal starving artist? Byrne notes that he is a member of the “1%” and though he won’t be going hungry anytime soon, doesn’t know if he’ll stay in the city (the article is called “If The 1% Stifles New York’s Creative Talent, I’m Out Of Here”) and he jokes that he may “join the expat hipsters upstate in Hudson.”
Despite a bleak outlook, the Talking Heads founder still presents a bit of optimism for the city he hopes to continue calling home. “The physical improvements are happening—though much of the crumbling public infrastructure still needs fixing. If the social and economic situation can be addressed, we’re halfway there. It really could be a model of how to make a large, economically sustainable and creatively energetic city. I want to live in THAT city.”
— E.J. Judge/WCBSFM