‘Creatives’ Have Fled the Upper West Side, Report Shows

Artist Hani Shihada making a chalk drawing on 113th Street.

A new report from Comptroller Scott Stringer confirms what many Upper West Siders may already suspect: many people in creative professions have left the neighborhood. The decline is particularly striking because the Upper West Side has long been known as a hub of creativity.

“In 2008, the Upper West Side was the neighborhood with the highest concentration of people working in creative occupations, housing nearly 18,000 creative workers, or roughly 9 percent of the total creative population. But by 2017 there were only approximately 14,000 creative workers living in the neighborhood, or 6 percent of all city creative workers.”

Between 2008 and 2017, the Upper West Side and West Side (which appears to include Hell’s Kitchen) lost a total of 6,757 people who were in creative professions, more than any other area, according to Stringer’s report. Creative professions include film and TV (which account for the largest share, making up more than a quarter of employment), fashion, music and other areas like advertising.

But other parts of the city added people in those professions, with Bushwick, Brooklyn adding the most. Housing, of course, is cheaper in areas like Bushwick, Bed-Stuy and Washington Heights, making it easier for people pursuing artistic careers to make rent — and of course leading to new waves of gentrification there.

Stringer proposes several changes to make it easier for artists to thrive in the city — by promoting creative industries, building new affordable housing and workspaces, and teaching arts in schools.

There are still thousands of artists here, of course. Check out our “Why the West Side” series to hear from creative people about why they live here.

ART, NEWS | 52 comments | permalink
    1. Christine E says:

      When I moved to the UWS in the 1990s, it was common to hear voice and instrumental musicians practicing all over the UWS. Sadly the wafting of melodies and scales from windows and alleyways is now rare to nonexistent. Rising rents and the sale/move of Mannes to downtown are the culprits, I suspect.

    2. Sean says:

      It’s the end of an era.

    3. UWSNYC says:

      is it a surprise? UWS is now filled with boomer nimbys, chain stores, and reactionaries obsessed with free parking spots

      • MikeDNYC says:

        “Reactionaries obsessed with free parking spots.”
        Love that, USWNYC.
        Annoying folks.

        • Lunchpail writer says:

          Well, some of those free-parking-space seekers are and always have been people in creative careers who work at home, including musicians who keep cars in the city to shlep around keyboards and other heavy music equipment to gigs downtown and in LI, NJ, etc. My wife is a musician, I’m a novelist, and I confess that one of the reasons we could afford to raise two kids on the Upper West Side and send them to college and grad school were certain perks like that. Mea culpa. Otherwise, you’re right — in our building, when once again a musician or writer moves out, someone in finance moves in.

          You can rest assured they do not trawl for free parking. You get what you wish for.

          • Josh says:

            Do you think your kids will have the same opportunity to raise a family on the UWS that you did?
            Protesting every new tower in the neighborhood has completely and utterly failed to maintain the character of the upper west side. It may look the same, but young families today don’t have anywhere near the opportunities that previous generations had. We need a new philosophy that embraces change in our physical environment to preserve the more important social and cultural environment.

      • Tag Gross says:

        It’s musicians and photographers and designers and artists who use curbside parking and many of those people have lived here for decades and raised families here. The reactionaries are on the community board ruining UWS side neighborhoods one at a time.

        We were here with the muggers and the crack addicts and a crumbling city. We stuck it out and brought it back.

      • Gerry says:

        Yep, I’m also a creative with a car on the UWS. My parents came to this neighborhood in 1960, as opera singers, lived their lives with artistry and decency. My mother lives on Long Island now. At 87, and now widowed, yes – I want to be able to hop in the car at a moment’s notice if she needs me. And so… Reactionary obsessed with free parking spots? You betchya. Parking is a game sport in this town, always was. I’m happy to play by the rules, and I do.

    4. Marci says:

      My husband is a creative. He always talks about how creatives have always moved into neighborhoods they can afford to live in which then, often undesirable. Then, over time, those neighborhoods become trendy to live in, and then the creatives can’t afford to live there anymore. He wouldn’t be able to stay on the UWS if he was the sole income, and so it makes sense to me that creatives are leaving the UWS. It’s expensive to live here – even for a two income family.

      • Paul says:


      • Josh says:

        It only becomes more expensive because we refuse to allow new housing to be built. Gentrification is a political choice, and the loud anti-height groups on the UWS have chosen to preserve buildings over culture. It’s sad that we preserve bricks instead of our creative class.

        • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

          you seriously believe these luxury high rises will be affordable for musicians, artists, actors,etc? other than the top 3% or so of the profession.

          • Sherman says:

            Hi Bruce-

            “you seriously believe these luxury high rises will be affordable for musicians, artists, actors,etc?”


            Sting has an apartment in 15 CPW.


            • NYCgirl says:

              Last time I checked Sting was definitely more likely to be in the top 3% than a Bway pit musician, for instance.

          • Josh says:

            No, I don’t. But do you really expect a housing shortage will make the rich just disappear?
            There are more rich people ever year. They can either move into new homes, or they can displace people living in the housing that already exists. “Close our eyes and hope they go somewhere else” is a nice dream, but how has that worked out? The upper west side is more expensive than ever now.
            Instead of building new housing, the upper west side has chosen to displace the artists who used to be here and replace them with the rich.

            • JSL says:

              when the high income earners can move into really nice high income high rises and get to stay in their favorite neighborhood, yes, the cost of smaller, older less amenity-filled buildings and walk ups will come down. Will the UWS ever be cheap? No. We live on an island with limited space. Rent will be high, but more supply can lower costs. On behalf of the young families trying to exists within this manhattan elite bubble you all have created, some of you could consider taking a class in economics, you may reconsider many of your positions and bad self-serving political ideas, and it would help give my generation a shot at being able to hold onto some of the wealth we are busting our asses to earn while you complain about where the poets and painters reside. you can’t whine for the old days and complain about no one of middle income being able to afford the neighborhood at the same time — it’s truly insane. Pick your poison.

        • Wijmlet says:

          Josh, New housing would only be more expensive and not attract creatives.

        • Cato says:

          There is plenty of new housing, all over the UWS. But it’s only for the mega-wealthy.

          Developers are not interested in adding housing for the middle class, or the “creatives”.

          No one is prohibiting new housing.

          • Josh says:

            “No one is prohibiting new housing.”
            Ok, try building a new 20 story apartment building in our neighborhood.

            • Ground Control says:

              Developers don’t want to build 20 story buildings in your neighborhood or any other. They want to build 775 foot towers leaving 200 feet empty to prop up their towers higher for the more expensive views. Imagine what could be built in 200 feet of a tower-but this is the new loophole developers use to subvert the zoning laws and build higher than allowed. And those condos most often start at $2.3 million or $3.5 million. And if they’re rentals they’re starting often over $10,000 per month. SO those who like to claim that this helps to provide affordable or market rate apartments-I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you in Brooklyn, real cheap. The creatives have been displaced along with the poor, the working and middle classes. People are leaving New York because developers control what is built and who may live here. That was never the case in this city, or at least not to this degree. Bloomberg had a lot to do with it and DeBlasio turned his back on what he could do to control overdevelopment. Big real estate holds the power. So much for democracy.

      • NYCgirl says:

        Perfectly said.

    5. Charles says:

      But we have such a creative variety of food bowls now!

    6. Doug Garr says:

      So the billionaires are forcing the millionaires out of Manhattan?

      • Lunchpail writer says:

        Maybe, but that’s not the issue here. Both the millionaires and billionaires are pushing out the working stiffs in creative fields. Writers and musicians, like my family, who are most possibly thousandaires.

    7. Barbara Adler says:

      Sad that creatives have left the UWS, but as to the photo above, no matter how talented the artist, it is against the law in NYC to “deface” the sidewalk in any way. The guy who signs his chalk messages, I think with HANY everywhere really irks me, as shortly after his work completed, the entire sidewalk is a mess.

      • C says:

        Indeed, totally defaced these gorgeous gray pavements.

      • LivesonUWS says:

        I really hope this is creative sarcasm. His chalk art is world class amazing.

      • uws2002 says:

        The only thing that bothers me about this guy is all his messages about Jesus. No one wants to be preached to from the concrete. I find that seltzer effectively removes his bible quotes.

    8. Suzanne Bonser says:

      I can afford my apartment because I moved here 20 years ago…. but my painting studio is now in Greenpoint, which is an hour+ commute!
      We definitely need more “workspaces” on the UWS Mr. Stringer!

      • Chrigid says:

        West Side storefronts empty longer than X-amount to time should, by law, be turned into art studios, which would bring tourists & day-trippers from the region, which would bring boutiques and craft stores etc. The For Rent signs would remain in the windows and the pop-ups would have to agree to move on a dime

    9. Kayson212 says:

      People moved to the UWS because of its creative feel, relative affordability and native NYer authenticity. (“Seinfeld” played a role in encouraging the latter perception.) Such popularity initially delights, then dilutes. Each man kills the thing he loves.

    10. Jan says:

      The UWS is going to the Dogs!
      Pun intended

    11. billie says:

      often a study has flaws.
      in this case we still live here
      but we are retired

    12. MARSHA says:

      Am here because of rent stabilization laws.

      ws here since 1974….it is safer now, but real boring….our wonderful ethnic mix has disappeared….

      I, too, miss all of the musicians and opera singers.

    13. Rob G. says:

      In 10 years, the headline will be “‘Creatives’ Have Fled Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, and Washington Heights, Report Shows”

    14. Marianne says:

      I’m a creative “thousandaire” like someone in the comments section called it. I had been living comfortably and happily for 24 years in a rent stabilized apartment In the West 70’s until a greedy new landlord emptied the building of its residents (my lawyer said the landlord had already flipped 6 buildings prior), by unleashing his lawyer team on us claiming he’d use the brownstone for himself. Unfortunately I lost in the Supreme Court – now I have to leave the area – the rent requirements have gotten unaffordable 🙁 have to be creative somewhere else.

    15. Marjorie Borell says:

      where did they go?

      • Sean says:

        They began to be driven out by the real estate industry in the 1980s. They went to Hells Kitchen. Then came the crash of 1987. For a while in the 90s it calmed down. Then the frat boy bars came and the developers. There were actors living here who also worked as waiters in local restaurants. You had theaters everywhere. They cast shows in the Ansonia. Rehearsal space was also for rent there. The painters etc. lived in Soho until the rich Europeans bought them out.

    16. Josh says:

      Can’t we just use the term “artist”? Creative (as anything other than an adjective) sounds ridiculous. If you must, creator. But no — artist suffices quite well!

    17. UWSDrew says:

      WSR. I made a comment pointing the lack of information in this article and you chose not to include it for some reason so I will try again. This article does not talk about the change of other professions or a comparison of other Manhattan neighborhoods. It’s also well know that people are leaving all Manhattan neighborhoods from all professions. Especially younger people. Here is a link to a Forbes article. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackkelly/2019/09/05/new-yorkers-are-leaving-the-city-in-droves-heres-why-theyre-moving-and-where-theyre-going/#436d5ef941ac
      This article you posted really tells us nothing at all and makes assumptions pointed at just 1 angle. For all we know creatives might have left is smaller numbers than all the other professions, you give us know info about that so how would we know? This is really a bad article and you should try to do better. Seems like you are omitting lots of info just to try to force a point that may or may not even be true.

    18. AH says:

      I live on the UWS and all my neighbors are attorneys, academics, TV producers, advertising creatives or grad students at Columbia whose families have money to pay for a doorman building.

      • Sean says:

        I don’t think your neighbors are the kind of creatives we usually mention. They are more on the scale of corporate management. Think novelists and actors and dancers. They were the UWS.

    19. JSL says:

      if you think less free parking attracts young families and artists, rethink it. Once my husband and I have a child we will have to leave this neighborhood because paying $450/month for parking is simply not an option for most young families, and it’s extremely hard to get in and out of the city with infants and young children who require car seats without a car of your own of some kind. The rent is too high, but parking is not the problem and more regulations are not the solution…if they were, rent would be quite low around here.

      • Lunchpail writer says:

        It sucks that young people need to move away from the UWS. That’s been the case for a long time, and it’s getting worse. The economics of small island, not enough housing, an economy skewed by Wall Street salaries, etc., are pretty inexorable.

        But I don’t think anyone’s making the case that less free parking attracts young families and artists. Most have made the point that free parking is a benefit for young families and artists.

        • Paul says:

          Actually the UWS is adding school rooms and private as well as public day care, pre-school and school facilities.

          I agree about parking, fully 35% of the residents of the UWS are in households with cars. Change the rules and you’ll likely see a forced departure of some, and higher costs for almost all the 35%.

    20. One artist, at least, is determined to keep my 1983 Rent Stabelized apt and art-making palace. Vive le Upper West!