John Criscitello and Seattle Gentrification

Loving these images from John Criscitello, a queer artist responding to the gentrification and changing nature of Capitol Hill in Seattle, previously a gay enclave but invaded by ‘Tech Bros’ and ‘Woo girls’. Amazon has taken over Seattle in part, and the ‘bros’ and hen-party good-time girls have flocked to the new bars in the area not really understanding the gay culture, and the ‘tech bros’ have moved into expensive new housing there.

John Criscitello Tech Money Kills Queer Culture Dead

Sadly this means a rise in homophobic attacks, a previously queer-friendly city. Hence the ‘We Bash Back’ and confrontational, sarcastic tone of his street posters, which reflect an 1980’s Queers Fight Back sensibility as well as being very now.

Like with San Francisco and London, an invasion of tech or richly paid workers ousting and killing the very culture they flocked to, queer culture is being erased everywhere because of this, along with other communities. Here in London it’s oligarchs, Chinese and Russian money and banksters….the safety deposit boxes in the sky sucking out the life of London. In other places like west coast America it’s the tech boom that is pushing the local communities out, and given SF and around is one of the world’s ‘homelands’ for LGBTQ it affects queer culture the hardest, as well as artists, workers, and minority communities.

John Criscitello - We Came Here - Dan Lamont/Guardian

I love “We Came Here To Get Away From You” – I don’t think many understand the politics of queer spaces, that despite gay marriage and queer rights wins you can’t just walk down the street anywhere holding hands. It might be a generational shift, but at the moment I don’t see this Gay Rainbow Utopia everywhere – certainly not in the middle east, Africa and Asia – that means ‘it’s not an issue’ anymore. These spaces, areas like the Castro which is similarly being destroyed are important because as much as some would like to live the white picket fence lifestyle, the locals won’t necessarily let you. There’s been a lot of pushback over the closure of the Black Cap and other places, saying this change is inevitable, that who needs these spaces, they are online now and we’ve won…

A good description of the issues is in this question from one of the tech workers to John Criscitello at an event called Smoke Farm Symposium. The point that the change he’s seeing in just the 4 1/2 years of being there is accelerated way beyond the natural slower movement of an area. This rapid state of change is happening in London, and it’s disturbing and is a form of ethnic, class & queer cleansing of the city by new money. That can be held up as an expression of snobbery, but usually areas take a decade or two to change. Not a few years…and what happened when the companies move, the dot-com bubble bursts, when the Russian or Chinese economy tanks (oops, just did, LOL)? You can’t rebuild culture in the same way you can build an office block. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

And I don’t think this movement has to be one-way, that capitalism must always win, nor that the community or area should sit and take it. Many examples of communities standing up to the ‘natural order’ of capitalism and winning…and it’s funny seeing the gentrification receding from places that attacked it like an encroaching virus, the T-cells of locals strangling the hipster viral invaders. Happened many times in Brixton, looks like Kilburn’s tide of gentrification is receding, hell even Stoke Newington has empty shops and nothing like the horror that is Shoreditch or to-be Dalston (but Peckham: watch out!). Sadly what’s left is a jetsam of closed shops and denuded places that lost their creativity like a barren reef…a battlezone waiting for the next lot of artists…if they come. Or it becomes like Enfield or Edmonton, or Streatham, a sort of infill Chicken Cottage zone.

John Criscitello by Amelia Bates / Grind

As a postscript, I think this idea that it’s all inevitable is a very blind view of history. We need spaces and places where all the LGBTQ can feel comfortable, and history has taught us that as soon as those places disappear then the trouble starts. And art and a mix of people and economic background, cultures etc. is what makes cities great. If it becomes a monoculture then you lose that vitality. Any great scene, like say rave or even mashups had a combination of people you’d never expect in the same place…rich, poor, straight, queer, black, white. You need that cross communication for such things to work, for those who need money for their grand ideas to find it, for those with crazy ideas to find an audience, for people to get out of their bubble for a moment. But these gated estates, boxes in the sky or Google Buses are antiseptic, separated spaces that don’t give back to the community, or allow for change to go either way. They go against the natural interchange of the city, they block the conversation, and the people from their fellow citizens.

As this article quite rightly points out, the Tech Bros, the Tech Nerds really get politics by and large, it seems that although the Geek Has Inherited The Earth that they don’t understand there are repercussions for their ‘cool disruptions’. Their cognitive bubble is not impervious nor can they be completely divorced from the city they are in, ‘hacking the City’ means quite often taking things away from others who are less tech- or money-enabled, usually.

You can’t plug and play a lifestyle, nor expect culture to be something you switch on, always there for you…real culture is messy, and needs care and input, time and space to grow…like a plant. It’s organic, rather than the plastic waxy GMO fruit you get from corporate mass media…but even they need to be incubated somewhere. But where are the artists and the queers supposed to go?

John Criscitello woo girls

Images from Amelia Bates/Grind, Dan Lamont/Guardian, Video from Seattle Times and others from unknown places (I’m guessing from John himself?). Tshirts, posters et al can be bought at John Criscitello’s RedBubble page. Thanks to Jez Biggs for the Vox article.

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