I have just finished reading the newly released Streetopia, published by Brooklyn Imprint. It's a photographic and verbal documentary of a massive anti-gentrification art festival that took place in San Francisco in 2012, with contributions by 24 current and former San Francisco artists tentatively associated with the San Francisco Bay Area "Mission School" or "New Mission School" Art movements. It reminds me in its importance of books like The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander or The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs. Since it's more rooted in the modern era, however, it may offer some more practicalities.
You may ask why this is relevant to South Florida, but in perusing its pages, you'll come to find it has roots in our own backyard.
Erick Lyle, one of the curators of the 2012 festival, edited the book. Lyle was part of the '90s punk scene in South Florida. He played in bands, was a community activist, and, most important, wrote and published Scam Magazine. Scam was a sort of diary of punk life on the lam and included many public tricks — shopping cart rides, university library squatting, and by the time Lyle made it to San Francisco, the infamous free cup of coffee coupon for Starbucks scam. Although these seemed like simple pranks, through his writing, we realize this guy is dedicated to a cause and trying to make a life of it. Over the years, Lyle's returns to South Florida resulted in Scam issue #7 (Scam Miami), which parallels his visit during the brutal FTAA protests in 2003 and Art Basel 2010.
In 2003, the protest of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas had been mostly brushed under the carpet and was virtually nonexistent to the general public. It gave birth to a heavy-handed approach to the squelching protest that ended in what was called the Miami Model. I witnessed these protests and was appalled by the treatment of fellow Americans by those who serve us. I was appalled by how little media it got. Somehow, the trade agreements never went through, so in some weird manner, we won that one.
As for Lyle's return in 2010, he observed a whole different attitude to mostly the same streets for the sake of the development of Art Basel. These stories are well-documented in Scam #7, and if you can get your hands on one, it’s worth a read. His paraphrasing of a Brazilian joke has stayed with me since I read it: “Miami is the city of the future, and it always will be."
Streetopia the book features two-dozen artist writers offering their viewpoints and involvement in the original "Streetopia" exhibition at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco in May and June of 2012. Taking place in the Tenderloin District, a place known for its poverty, crime, addictions, and high rates of AIDS infection but also for its activism, this area was all but forgotten until the new money moved in.
Discovering that the bad guys of this story are Google, Facebook, and, of all things, Burning Man Inc. should be disturbing. Cities, developers, and businesses bringing what they believe is culture with no forgiveness in eliminating the culture that already exists isn't just a theory; it's real. The American Dream leads people to believe we will all get rich, without taking into account that we continue to displace the poor from what they called home for generations. Artists, musicians, and writers alike often live on the fringes to survive too. To believe developers wish to cultivate art and culture rather than replace it with profits is naive, to say the least.
Each section of Streetopia describes what this community of artists who joined forces for five weeks did to accomplish their idea of utopia. From the Free Cafe to the Healing Arts Studio, we learn about the hard work and commitment it takes to actually be part of a community, not just enter into one and take it over. Many of the contributors are also activists, and San Francisco is full of history on this type of "radical" behavior. Its pages are full of those tales, and they a much broader picture than I on the subject. Which is why I recommend you read it.
Discover the parallels between our communities and the ironies of development for "art’s sake." In Streetopia, you may not find all the answers, but through the stories of these dedicated artists, it's a damned good place to start.