Sharon Zukin, PhD Political Science from Columbia University, is Professor of Sociology at Brooklyn College and at the CUNY Graduate Center. She is an expert in consumer society and consumer culture (particularly shopping and urban change), gentrification, arts and economic development, and ethnic diversity.
In tracking the emergence of loft living in 1980s lower Manhattan, Zukin tells a larger story about gentrification and the diminution of manufacturing in the postindustrial city, asserting that we are “at a historic turning point in urban political economy” (176). She opens by arguing that loft living does not, in fact, encourage mixed use, nor is the city benefited by industry’s exodus or robust developer subsidies. The loft terrain, instead, is the site of the annihilation of manufacturing and generation of social group conflict.
Loft conversion happened because of the confluence of three things:
- The “loft lifestyle,” a mélange of the democratization of art (thus, increasing its commercialization and the associated lifestyle), the domestication of the “industrial aesthetic,” overall changes in perceptions towards artists, and the personal and state patronage provided them.
- An eager investment climate, wherein the smaller developers were pulled toward the attractive profit margins and larger developers pushed from the ballooning costs of their traditional endeavors.
- State intervention, each technique testament to the state’s role of speculator in response to deindustrialization and revalorization, as well as institutionalization of codification, socialization of consumption, and socialization of failure.
The Artistic Mode of Production (AMP): (1) assists in the evolution of productive urban space to nonproductive, (2) changes the local labor market, (3) decreases people’s expectations, (4) obscures current and pressing concerns by focusing on “picturesque” (180) historical aspects, and (5) makes a conversion back to industrial use nigh-on impossible. Thus, the three issues to consider in evaluating the AMP’s impact on the urban political economy: the base, the costs, and the contradictions.
Zukin draws four conclusions: (1) investors, not consumers, are the agents of change; (2) agents at all levels of investment are involved (“investment hierarchies” ); (3) negotiations regarding the urban terrain bespeak groups’ curious concepts of property rights; and (4) arts patrons and middle class historic preservationists play critical mediating roles.