The (Contested) Origins of Urban Cultural Space

Last week I was turned on to this article in Noise and Color PDX. A remark in the comments section about the cheap urban spaces in rustbelt cities made me reflect a bit on the development of “scenes” relative to transformations in the physical space of a city. We can all think of examples of these scenes – punk rock (NYC), rave culture (Detroit/Chicago), or as the article addresses, ‘indie’ music (Portland/Austin). It strikes me that the emergence of these scenes are usually treated as authentic moments of origin, as if nothing was there before, or as if the emergent scene had no effect on the previously existing culture of a place. Maybe this perception of authenticity explains why people lament the commercialization or mainstreaming of a particular scene. This seems especially true, as captured by the aforementioned article, in light of gentrification, rising rents, and the cultural shifts that accompany it all. Yet scenes do not emerge out of nothing: Walter Benjamin has already invited us to think about origins as more than what has emerged, but also what has disappeared.

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