Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A clustering approach to the management of civic assets

From Chapter 5: Recommendations of the Public Space Master Plan of the Arlington County (VA) Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources:

Recommendation 1.5 –
Develop a “Clustering Philosophy”

Clustering involves establishing service area boundaries that include a group of parks and/or facilities and treating them as a single unit of service rather than individual spaces. Within the cluster, overall community needs for individual components such as playgrounds, tennis courts, athletic courts, arts and cultural amenities, picnic shelters, sports fields, indoor programming space and other desired components is met without duplicating them in each individual space. To develop this clustering philosophy the County should:

- Determine the service areas for each cluster. Review current service levels and determine areas that are under-served and well served.
- Based on service level, determine where to reduce duplication of services without reducing the overall quality of service provided to the community.
- Identify where new replacement or additional components will be constructed and include them in the Capital Improvement Plan.

... I am preparing a presentation Friday, on arts-based urban revitalization for a conference on theatre and playwriting.

The idea behind my presentation isn't that "arts are beautiful" and the best way to promote revitalization, but how to better support the development, support and strengthening of artists and organizations and the creative economy--to support the creative ecosystem, across multiple artistic disciplines, and how to place artists and organizations strategically to better represent their interests in the context of what Sharon Zukin in Loft Living: Culture and Capital in Urban Change) called the "artist mode of production" where the arts and artists are used to convert (reproduce) low value (often abandoned industrial) property into high value commercial and residential property, and get displaced/priced out in the process.

Of course, the displacement effect is most likely to occur in places like DC and New York City, which are relatively strong real estate markets. In cities like Pittsburgh or Baltimore, for the most part, artists and arts organizations don't have to worry about displacement, because the real estate markets there are relatively weak.

While I won't likely discuss these examples specifically, interestingly there is a big difference amongst communities in Maryland that have state-designated Arts & Entertainment Districts. Some are oriented to fostering consumption of goods and services, while others, such as Station North and Highlandtown in Baltimore, are more focused on supporting arts production.

(In the study I worked on for Cambridge, Maryland, there are a few pages of bullet points on how to reposition their "arts and entertainment district" more towards production and the development of the creative impulse. It's not nearly as detailed as say the Channel District Arts Plan from Tampa, but given the scope and budget, it covers a lot of ground in a couple pages.)

(Similarly, Highlandtown's Creative Alliance at The Patterson Theater support artists and artists organizations much more than say, the Atlas Performing Arts Center in DC, which is more focused on presenting theater and other performances. The Patterson Theater also presents performances...)

However, focusing on the development of artistic centers--support and capacity development entities--and rethinking how artistic organizations need to work together to develop and share and maximize the value of audiences as well as how to develop and strengthen their broader networks still pertains, regardless of the quality of the real estate market.

Papers from The Reinvestment Fund and the Social Impact of the Arts Project at Penn have been particularly valuable in moving my ideas from previous blog entries such as:

-- Arts-based revitalization, community building, network strengthening, commodification, and Artomatic
-- More Arts Displacement
-- Arts vs. arts-plus for commercial district revitalization
-- Cultural resources planning in DC: In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king
-- More on (DC's) Cultural Infrastructure
-- You Gotta Have Community Building

to a stronger, deeper, and wider framework based on a differentiation of the types of arts-based revitalization strategies that are out there, and how for the most part these strategies are focused on enhancing the (real estate) value of place, and less about strengthening artists and arts organizations. Types of arts districts:

- Arts Districts oriented to large presenting institutions (a museum district or theater district)
- Cultural Compounds (i.e., Kennedy Center)
- Arts and Entertainment Districts
- Downtown (and other urban) Districts
- Cultural Production Centers.

Arlington is a leader of course, in their arts incubator concept, which pulls many of these concepts together. From the website:

A county government reorganization in 1986 established a Cultural Affairs Division as part of the newly created Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Resources. A year later the county appointed a citizens' advisory committee to help division staff determine the direction of arts development in the county; a modest investment in cultural facility renovation was made and a Commission for the Arts was formed. A new policy was developed that made it possible for any Arlington artist or arts organization--amateur or professional--to be supported by the county through a competitive grants process.

The division's mandate was changed from serving the needs of a small number of non-professional artists and arts organizations to serving the cultural needs and interests of the entire community. By adding professional artists to the mix, the new division's administrators sought to bring higher quality, greater quantity and a wider range of arts offerings to the area. They hoped to shape a program that would attract artists--from inside and outside the community--who could respond more effectively to the interests of Arlington's diverse population.

In 1990, an Arts Incubator utilizing the new policies and facilities was established. A cost-effective strategy for providing what artists and arts organizations need to create and present their work, the program centers on a way of thinking rather than a way of spending, on reimagining an assortment of untapped government resources such as underused public- and private-sector space. This approach yields substantial dividends: although the county's grants program is small--$98,000 in 1997--the annual savings in rent to organizations using county-subsidized spaces exceeds $400,000.

As a result of the Arts Incubator program, the number of arts groups in Arlington grew from 11 to 25 between 1990 and 1996. The number of arts events increased over 500 percent--from 200 to 1,300--during the same period, while the area's arts audiences increased threefold. (The county's annual arts audience is now almost twice its population.) It is estimated that the local arts industry has gone from generating $1 million to $5 million annually.

The 6 principles for replication:

1. Generate Support For the Arts
2. Seek Out Untapped Resources
3. Connect Arts Support to Community Benefit
4. Maximize Resources Through Creative Sharing
5. Adopt a Flexible Approach to Arts Support
6. Enable Artistic Risk Taking

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