Downtown: Can the Poor Creative and the Monied Worker Co-exist?
My consistent fear for downtown Macon has been that the people developing and the people who are actually living in, using, and frequenting downtown are not working together. Yes, having high end lofts is nice, but having places where hippies and hipster can afford to stay, where creative types can set up shop to work and practice without sacrificing an arm and a leg for their craft, that has always been what downtown was about and something for which those who worked earlier for the revitalization of Downtown Macon strived.
I remember the first time I brought my writing into downtown Macon. The concept of danger still hovered over the area but those few of us who ventured downtown after 6pm knew that the only thing you had to worry about was what story you’d get from a homeless traveler. I paid $10 a month to rent a space in the Contemporary Arts Exchange that was really cold in the winter and extremely hot in the summer. There, I met some of the best people who have been working in ways subtle and not so subtle to make downtown Macon a destination. Yet what is all of that work if, in the end, others take it and push us out. And for those that can afford to stay, something is still loss when the weirdos and the dreamers that helped make the area exciting are not getting the same kind of help to continue creating.
Some creative people have found ways to continue on despite the light gentrification. The musical concept of Fresh Produce Records started in the Golden Bough Bookstore’s back room and it is very uplifting for me as a creative person to know that the Knight Foundation is supporting it because that music was my first introduction to our small music scene. I commend Bragg Jam for reaching out to them and helping them pack the place with their eclectic music and unconventional musicians. I love what Fresh Produce brings to downtown even as the cost of lofts homogenizes the citizenry of downtown Macon. I commend Bar 41 for bringing color to downtown Macon. For a while, it was me and Kelley Dixson or, as we called each other, “Other Black Girl.” It would not be weird for us to go an entire week and only see enough People of Color to count on one hand. In fact, we were so often the only black females downtown, people would confuse us. We dont know how, but it happened. Now, I can walk into an entire bar full of black people unafraid of being downtown as they once were. And even if there are businesses and people working to move the “element” out of downtown, I congratulate Patrick on a successful business that brings a lot of foot traffic to downtown.
I’m not saying that uptown businesses and people have no place in downtown. Downtown is not successful unless people spend money. But there has to be a way for the poor creative and the wealthier worker to co-exist without creating new businesses that only cater to people who live downtown because they’ve been promised a new “North Macon.” And I don’t say North Macon in a derivative manner but if you want to find art, where do you usually go – even if it’s not downtown, it’s not North Macon. Vineville, Payne City, Downtown. And when the music scene got going, there was some brilliant music. Some of the older bands evolved. Even if they don’t play any more under one moniker they still exist in some form with another band. We are getting new bands every day and more venues are opening up to the kinds of music they’ll allow to play. We definitely need to be more open. What we don’t need to be is so homogenized there is no value to the area.
Reading this article by Jared Wright makes it even more clear that gentrifying an area known for being eclectic is a bad idea. A downtown area that is not eclectic doesn’t attract for long. The goal is to have a place that could convince others to stay for an entire weekend, not just have one stop while in the city. We might bring them with our food, but if we can’t wow them with our nightlife, our art, our uniqueness, then how can we convince them that staying would be a good idea. How much tourism does North Macon bring us annually? Not just business as people stop off of the interstate to use the restroom, eat a meal, or go to a mall (since there is about to be two). I mean actual tourism where people stop and then say, “maybe we can find a hotel and see what’s up.” From the Grand Opera House to Fresh Produce and everything in between, there is something to draw people into our web. I would like to see Macon keep it that way.