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Survival Plan

So here’s the point. The internet is making art cheaper and cheaper — nobody needs to pay writers or artists any more because there’s so much stuff being generated for free.  Plus miserable clipart and stock photos.  All that bullshit about the rise of the ‘creative class’ has been proven to be absolute cuntwash.  As always throughout history we creative folks have been strapped down and treated to a swift application of the nuclear-powered ‘get a real job you dirty fucking hippies’ dildo, and the ruling monied classes have walked off with the spoils of progress.

The fact is, literally 40% of America’s wealth goes to financiers, and they don’t need books or art on a scale that supports anybody. A few dozen ‘curated’ artist bastards who wave their asses at their patrons, and that’s it.  It’s only when the common folk have some disposable income that robust markets exist for culture and entertainment.

So anyhoo we’re fucked as creators of things. The real tragedy is centralized internet-based culture means bookstores, music stores, indie theaters, etc. are all vanishing at an unstoppable clip. Time will come when anything not available on Amazon will not be available at all.

I said I had a point, and I do. I think in this insane rush to big-box everything, even arts and culture, a limited opportunity is created in the wake of destruction. There will be a space for what amounts to legacy communities that pay homage to the ‘good old days’ of about 15 years ago.
I can think of some models: Ashland Oregon, Hay-On-Wye (Britain), Solvang California.

Ashland does Shakespeare on such a scale it attracts people the way state fairs used to do. Hay-On-Wye is home to dozens of bookshops; it’s a kind of bibliophile’s Mecca. Solvang is an homage to a Danish emigration nobody cares about any more, but the town is so European it’s weird.  In the Santa Ynez Valley, of all places.

Thesis: there is a place for a small town, master-planned on purpose to achieve the effect, full of vinyl record stores, bookshops, musical instrument shops, craftspeople (cobblers, potters, tailors, blacksmiths) etc. etc. with a strong street culture, cafés, loads of festivals and celebrations, and so forth. Galleries. Farm stands.  A drugstore soda fountain.  The last of the great mom & pop diners. A movie theater that does $1 Saturday matinees for kids.

In a time when America is devouring its past in order to finance its present, such a town could thrive.  It would become a memorial to how we imagined ourselves to be, back when we imagined we could be something better than just rich.  Maybe it could even be a model for what we hope to become.

I think there are four keys to this working: the first is an internet presence as charming as the town, in which you can roam through all the shops and see what’s there, lots of good reading and shopping and music and all that stuff right in the town/ business websites. Kind of a centrally planned web presence.  Not like the sites linked above, which all have a rather dry civic auditorium feeling to them, but active, personal web spaces.  More like love letters to the place and its people.

The second is one-stop shopping. If you come to visit town and there’s a vinyl record store, you’d better be able to buy a record player, too. If there’s a tailor there had better be a shoe store, and a hat store next door. If you came out for the book festival there had better be an old-fashioned printer in town that makes books, art prints, and has a big old greasy press rumbling away — and a book bindery upstairs that also makes ipad covers.

Third is a lifestyle proposition. If people came to such a town to live, they’d need affordable space, low overhead, lots of communal support. I’m talking about the makers’ library, workshop, & tool loanout, the community forge and kiln, the public bakery. Food co-ops and delivery trucks. Organic farms nearby? Yes, please.

Finally, it needs a festival.  Heck, a calendar of events.  Is it an arts festival?  A TED-style convocation of great minds?  A Coachella-style music week?  What goes on the rest of the year?  Give people a date to mark on their calendars.  Give them a reason to come back a few months later.

All of this would have to exist in a ‘destination’ setting, preferably in a kind of geographic cul-de-sac, so that big-box retailers and outlet stores don’t park themselves right outside town and kill the heart of the thing. It’s got to be an attractive/ interesting place, small-town in character.  It’s probably a town that already exists.

If a body could find a place with the right bones and grow that out into what I describe, it should be possible to build a community that is a real place with real people in it, but one dedicated to a slower, more meticulous kind of life. A place that is productive without being industrial, charming but not twee.

Eventually you’d capitalize on the quaint side by building creative HQ, luxury housing, etc. on the fringes, places companies and rich people would like to be because it’s so pleasant, but not in a way that lets them fuck up the core offering by gentrifying it to death.  Those bastards.  You want to hang out in the coolest town in America?  Here’s the zoning restrictions, you tasteless, wealthy bitches.  No, you can’t park your yacht on the river.  That’s where we have the Pirate Festival.

It seems to me there would be a gigantic market for such a place, driven by mingled nostalgia and hope, and that a few thousand talented folks could survive there.


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