The Irish Times view on keeping creatives in the capital city
We can all take pleasure in having a skinny latté served up by a diligent barista, but what if he or she has been priced out of town?
Singer-songwriter David Kitt: Claims the city’s “heart and soul is being ripped out and sold to the highest bidder”. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons.
Singer-songwriter David Kitt, the son of a former Fianna Fáil junior minister, caused quite a stir this week by announcing that he had no option but to leave Dublin because he could no longer afford to pay the extortionate rents being demanded by landlords. He claimed the city’s “heart and soul is being ripped out and sold to the highest bidder”, with the connivance of the Fine Gael-led government, and that the principal victims were “creative/artistic/bright people”, such as himself.
As Brian Boyd has noted in this paper, Dublin bought into the vision enunciated by American sociologist Richard Florida, the “Grandfather of Gentrification”, whose best-selling 2002 book, The Rise of the Creative Class, popularised the idea that cities should embrace “technology, talent and tolerance”. The key to economic success, according to him, was to make a city hipster-friendly, with a lively arts, music and “café culture”. What he didn’t budget for, however, was that this would create a whole new set of problems.
Florida himself recently conceded in another, more realistic, book that the negative effects of gentrification - particularly the displacement of people who can no longer afford sky-high rents - had revealed “the dark side of an urban revival that I had once championed and celebrated”. As a result, what he now advocates is that cities should build affordable housing and increase the minimum wage, to ensure that younger, less well-paid “creatives”can find places to live at reasonable rents.
We can all take pleasure in having a skinny latté served up by a diligent barista, but what if he or she has been priced out of town? Mr Kitt is right to blame the Government for its failure to adopt the most glaringly obvious policy response to the housing emergency: to finance the construction of social and affordable homes, not just for “creatives” but for everyone who needs them. Spending a large chunk of the housing budget on rent supplements and housing assistance payments, so that tenants can afford to pay ridiculously high rents, is simply not the right policy response.