Earlier this month, a fire in Ghost Ship, an Oakland warehouse being used as a live/work space for artists, killed 36 people. The New Yorker attributes the tragedy to a landlord's negligence, noting that there were no fire alarms in the building, and the exits were difficult to locate.
NYC has many of its own Ghost Ship-like spaces, and Bushwick in particular has a high proportion of both warehouses and smoke detector complaints, as we previously reported on Brick. Now, it seems as though the city is beginning to crack down on buildings that pose fire hazards: The New York Post writes that inspectors from the Mayor's Office of Special Enforcement have shut down a Greenpoint Airbnb that was doubling as a DIY concert venue.
The building, located at 502 Morgan Avenue, appears to be in an industrial area; the Airbnb listing is now down, but the Post notes that for $30 a night, guests were sleeping in bunk beds in one of five windowless rooms. The attached DIY venue, called Aviv, hosted punk rock performances. The club's Yelp page includes visitor photographs that reveal its close quarters; a reviewer notes, "It has the feel of someone's basement."
The Department of Buildings discovered an illegally installed gas line in the property, of which mayoral spokeswoman Melissa Grace said in a statement, "We are relieved no one was hurt."
DIY venues spring up frequently in Brooklyn; they're beloved as no-frills spaces where visitors can affordably experience art and music, in an increasingly affluent city that makes it difficult for artists to find a foothold. The Culture Trip's roundup of these venues reveals that they're frequently short-lived, and many have already been shut down. One, Death By Audio, made enough of a cultural impact before its closure to warrant a documentary. Another venue, Shea Stadium, has garnered the attention of the New York Times for its range of all-ages shows.
These performance spaces clearly hold an important position in cultural ecosystems, particularly in cities like New York and San Francisco, where rapid gentrification threatens the ability of local artists to find affordable rooms of their own to live, work, and share their creativity. That said, without the oversight of construction professionals, visiting such venues could come with considerable risks.
Former DIY venue owner Todd Patrick told Gothamist that one of the major problems is that complying with city regulations is a prohibitively expensive and byzantine endeavor. The solution, he says, is to simplify the building code so that it's easier for owners to make these underground venues safe. He also notes that even when maintenance isn't totally above-board, tragedies like the one in Oakland are quite rare.
"There have been a surprisingly few number of tragedies," Patrick told the website. That said, one is far too many, and given that the city seems to be taking a "better safe than sorry" approach, other DIY venue owners should consider what they can do to eliminate hazards in their own spaces.
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