What does City of Jungle mean? And why the hell do we have the "of"…
There is always a way to classify neighborhoods in the city. That one is for the rich, the other one is for the tech start-ups, this one is for the punks, and that one is for media creatives. But there is also the superstar neighborhood, the hotspot for all what is trendy and new. New York has Brooklyn, London has Dalston, and Vilnius has Užupis.
Brooklyn might occupy your imagination with concrete, warehouses and industrial design. Dalston gives you new lofts, contemporary art, and kebab shops. And Užupis offers cosy stone-paved streets, old town houses and an image of the painter in front of the canvas. They all are supernovas with their own colors and textures, but there are things tying the trend together: they were all once neglected, poor or forgotten. They were leftovers of industry, manufactures or elegance, asking to be repurposed and celebrated.
I am not aiming for generalization here, but there might even be a formula for a trendy neighborhood, and I started noticing that when media asked “Where is the new Dalston?”.
The cheap and not-so-much
People tend to be practical. Behind the occasional anarchy and dadaistic art pieces there is a common sense. Young creatives started moving to Dalston because it was cheap. Yes, it was crime ridden and filthy, but affordable. “We take it for granted that artists are the ones to find the best neighborhoods, then came the gay community and then the techies”, said David Lambino, one of the directors of Brooklyn based real estate development firm. It’s a golden phrase and it could be easily said about Dalston or any other trendy neighborhood.
The creative class started moving there, depending their start-ups on affordable commercial spaces and attracting attention of real estate developers. Brooklyn even offered them 2-3 years commercial leases instead of standard 10 years. The good in all of this, is that artists saw the potential of the neighborhood and started attracting more like-minded people.
The atrocious changes started when a massive bunch of finance and banking people followed them (don’t get me wrong, good things came with that too!) and started pushing the housing prices up. The prices of Hackney borough (where Dalston lies as well), have risen by 50% since July 2005. Yes, the secret is definitely out. Migrants, lower class families, and individuals brought the awesome street food, off-licenses and loud chatter in the streets. All the fun is in variety.
The art and vision
The beauty of putting your trust into something that is far from the vision in your head is familiar for any creative. It does not even matter much what you actually do. It was artists who introduced real estate developers to Brooklyn, made them see it from a different angle. Now both sides are thriving there.
On top of the natural flow of moving-in art, Brooklyn offered the perfect microclimate for nurturing culture: they allowed certain commercial spaces for businesses and start-ups rent-free, St. Ann’s Warehouse among them, has been rent-free for 9 years. Call that an invitation! It is now a well-known space for live performances.
All three, Brooklyn, Dalston and Užupis are full of legal and accidental art. Artists are working on beautifying and modernizing public spaces, but preserving the history of it at the same time. Dalston street art is thriving and covers whole buildings, shop windows and walls. In such giant city like London, Dalston might not be the obvious centre of culture, but it sure does offer a wide selection of it. From rooftop gigs and pub theatre plays, to homeless’ art exhibitions and canal-side greenhouses and bars. Whatever you feel like today, you would probably find it in Dalston.
On the other hand, Užupis has a breath of strong European culture. The vibe of old town, inner-yard galleries, little cafés, naturally curling river and the view of organic beauty, brings fresh air, and distinguishes it from the industrial Brooklyn or Dalston past. It is also the size of Vilnius that radiates the intimacy of Užupis and makes you wanna read the paper book your mom gave you, rather than PDF from your laptop. It is all about the unique vibe that cannot be copied.
The “always moving”
The question like “Where is the new Dalston?” is not new. All the trendy neighborhoods are doomed to fade away, when new places come to fashion. The main trend is to look for the undiscovered, the new, the unexplored. With this continuing, the spotlight quickly moves from one geographical region to another. That is a natural part of the city, functioning as a living being.
Simultaneously, the trend of reviving the old and wearing 90s jeans is sneaking around, which might be exactly the one to give Brooklyn, Dalston or Užupis another chance when it’s old and grey. Meanwhile, we can all take part in fun guesses which neighborhood will become “THE NEW BIG THING”.