The creative class is moving to Mexico City.
Five years ago I met C. in a hostel in Panama City. She was working there and I was hanging out, killing time until Carnaval, in no hurry to get to anywhere in particular. A few months later she had moved to San Francisco & I had moved to Los Angeles with Josh. Since then we’ve been hanging every time I’m in the Bay, but last week we met up in her new home: Mexico City.
C. used to work for a Bay area alt weekly, writing about weed and sex and the queer party scene. When the paper got shut down she started her own magazine and became a freelancer, and when the Bay (she’s native) got techy, homogenized, and very expensive, she quit the US and moved down here. Now she lives in a gorgeous house just west of the Condesa, with her roommates: a video artist from Guadalajara and a filmmaker from the US.
We had both lived in New York before Latin America, and we talked about living in the city again. “Not worth it,” she said. “And I don’t need to be there.”
She realized that she didn’t want to be in SF either, a slave to her rent, cobbling together part time jobs at the expense of her own projects. I can relate; I felt the same way. Before I left LA for Indiana last summer, I was juggling 4 part time jobs (including an adjunct position at a private college) and I still wasn’t making that much money. Worse, I wasn’t writing. And because I wasn’t writing, I got kind of depressed. If you’re a creative in LA, NY, or San Francisco, it often feels like you have to make a choice between pursuing your art or paying your bills (or living like an adult). Now I’m considering doing what Cat and a lot of her friends in D.F. have done: leaving the US and moving here permanently.
At the end of 2014, Bloomberg.com reported that “for the first time since 2001, there are not enough rental units in America to meet demand.” A few weeks later LA Weekly noted that the cost of housing in LA is double the national average, but that it’s even worse if you live in New York. At this point, this is news to exactly no one. But rents are going up all over the country, in Phoenix and in Orlando, not just in Brooklyn and San Francisco.
Summer Commune began as a response to this trend, at a time when the rent was already “too damn high,” and we were hopeful that we could create new, alternative, and affordable creative hubs - our own Berlin, but here in the US. Like Cat, we had decided that we didn’t “need to be there.” At the time we thought: You can move to New York because publishers live there, or you can set up a Twitter and a tumblr account and connect with them that way. (Josh can attest to all the opportunities to write that he got from people he “knew from the internet.”)
Most people who are part of Summer Commune, and who still live in SF/Vancouver/Brooklyn/wherever do, in fact, think the struggle is “worth it.” The internet might be useful for a certain degree of networking, but it can’t replace that face to face interaction, running into someone you want to know at a bar, or the verve of being surrounded by an actual community, of living in close proximity to other people engaged in the exact same hustle you are, slowly working their way towards their creative or entrepreneurial goals. Nor can it provide you with all the other perks of city living - all the bars, museums, music, food, diversity, art, and culture that are harder to find in the (more affordable) middle of the country.
But culturally relevant cities exist all over the world, and Mexico City is definitely one of them. Not only is D.F. cutting edge, it’s actually possible to live here on your freelance salary. You can do your creative work and still see art, eat great food, meet cool people, and have a good time, especially if you’re earning US dollars. For me, Cat, and the handful of other post-Brooklyn transplants I met last week, the decision to be here is an easy one.