It’s not an original comment, but you know that an area has reached rock bottom when the artists move in. And from there the only way is up.
The theory of course is that an area gets run down, businesses close, residents move away and property prices fall. Some people only see the litter strewn streets, vandalised and derelict buildings, street drinkers, grime, crime and despair. But others see it as opportunity.
At the turn of the century Stokes Croft in Bristol was down on its luck. A brief renaissance in the 90s led by the club culture (notably Lakota) seemed to have stalled and it was back to being dominated by the traffic of the A38, ever more homeless hostels and ever more hopelessness.
At this same time though things did start to happen. Banksy had already used one flank wall for his ‘mild mild west’ painting and this attracted more urban artists looking for large and prominent canvases upon which to show their work. The People’s Republic of Stokes Croft took up residence and gave a new, if controversial, voice to the self proclaimed cultural quarter of Bristol. Cafes started to open, the nightlife took off again, small businesses started up and a vibe took hold.
For the last 10 years or so things have gradually improved to the extent that the Sunday Times on 8 March 2015 declared Bristol and especially Stokes Croft as one of the top ten places to live in the UK.
But maybe the pendulum is starting to swing too far. The imminent opening of the US style dining chain Meat Liquor sets a new commercial tone in the area and recently a London developer has submitted unpopular proposals to build 118 flats with fears that this will introduce an exclusive gated community into the midst of the artists, students and urban trendies.
But what attracts the big money to Stokes Croft? It can only have been the artists. Moving into the semi-derelict environment they have set a new tone, attracted young and adventurous people and made it the stylish place to be. That of course attracts people with more money who seek to buy their style simply through association. And that eventually attracts the property developers. Really, the developers ought to be paying the artists a commission.