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, June 11, 2014

Lessons learned: European culture districts article series and certain recommendations relevant to DC Government's economic development and culture functions

The European Union flag flies at the Embassy of Greece in Washington, DC.

The series of articles I did on European culture-based revitalization as practiced in eight cities (Bilbao, Dublin, Hamburg, Helsinki, Liverpool, Marseille, Thessaloniki, Vienna) for the Europe in Baltimore project conducted by the European Union National Institutes of Culture Washington Cluster is finished (for the most part, there is an additional article in the hopper based on a trans-atlantic conference that was held a couple weeks ago).

The final article in that series is a long one, and includes a lot, my basic conclusions and understandings, an expansion of the original framework of the types of revitalization programs and the scale at which they operate, (some of the) things I missed, academic work I was introduced to that I still need to delve into more deeply, and "recommendations" for cities considering participating in the European Capital of Culture program, for Baltimore, and for the U.S. Federal Government in terms of how to better focus resources and attention on revitalization practice, in part by adapting certain programs of the EU--the Capital of Culture and Green Capital programs specifically--and a German program, the International Building Exposition--as diffusion and innovation models.

EU knowledge networks for urban improvement are superior.  Perhaps the biggest lesson is the difference between the European Union/European Commission and the US knowledge ecosystem--universities, the federal government, other state and local governments, nonprofits, etc.--in terms of knowledge capture and innovation diffusion.  It's not that various entities in the US don't generate tons of information on culture-based revitalization and planning practice more generally, we do.

The difference is that in the US we haven't created "practice networks" in the same way, and we don't capture the benefit of focused cooperative and collaborative "competition" between cities as a way to improve outcomes for all participants.

Instead, much of what we do in the US is "one-off" and repetitive (plus cheerleading is big and critical analysis is not appreciated) and we waste a lot of time and money doing similar things, but over and over.

Relevance to DC government's economic development and cultural activities.  It happens that some of the recommendations for Baltimore are relevant to DC, in particular how Liverpool has restructured its economic development and culture functions into two branded agencies directed by plans, Liverpool Vision and Culture Liverpool specifically, that combine various city government functions but also integrate the private and nonprofit sectors in particular ways.

Vienna does something similar.  It has a branded economic development agency, with two sub-brands focused on the creative economy (Departure) and on information technology and communications.

I hear that the same business schools that produced the city's "economic development plan"--which I was not particularly impressed by, are producing a similar study on DC's cultural offer and the creative economy.  I am not expecting very much, but I suppose I shouldn't be so negative.

First, what should happen is a restructuring of DC's economic development activities.  Right now, the various economic development projects pursued by the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development feel disjoint and political considerations shape the priorities in significant ways.  I'd like to see a real plan, on the scale of those done for Liverpool (and Bilbao).

Second would be a restructuring of activities related to the cultural offer as well as the creative economy.

Third would be to direct more of the city's tourism tax revenue stream to support the development of cultural assets at various scales throughout the city, including within neighborhoods, because cultural assets are what makes the city attractive both to residents and to visitors (e.g., what a paper about Thessaloniki calls "city break" tourism, which is what DC's "local" tourism offer is).

Fourth, I would consider the development of an IT-oriented sub-agency of the "economic development department" (Vienna does this) that also has the innovative thrust of Helsinki's Forum Virium Helsinki agency.  (Allegedly, DC's CTO unit does some of this kind of innovation too, although it's not evident from the website design...)

Past writings.  I wrote a memo in 2006 (reprinted in 2007 in "Cultural resources planning in DC: In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king") that discusses how to reorganize the city's cultural resources programs in an integrated fashion.

The paper I wrote on culture districts and revitalization in 2009 is as relevant today as it was then.

Plus by early next week I will have another piece on "knowledge clusters"-'Innovation districts" in response to a report released earlier this week by the Brookings Institution, which will extend the other writings.  (The reality is that the precepts for "creating" culture districts are pretty much the same for knowledge quarters.)

Plus I guess this piece from a few months ago, "Naturally occurring innovation districts | Technology districts and the tech sector," presages my thinking about how innovation district concepts are relevant to DC.

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At 3:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

one wonders if this explains some of disconnect I see so much of with planners here in the USA- they talk a fair game about cycling infrastructure abd how good it is in Europe [ Denmark, Deutschland, Holland, etc.] and yet when it comes to implementing these practices here they just make lame ass excuses. It is as though these people NEVER left the USA for any reason whatsoever. And yet they are always talking about how good it is over the drink........

At 4:44 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I am not going to defend planners, but... the real problem comes from a fear of change, by residents, by elected officials.

I feel like politics is mostly about warding off the future for as long as possible.

i.e., speaking of Europe and the UK, and Churchill's quote "you can always count on America to do the right thing. After she has exhausted all other possible alternatives."

It takes a long time to work through all of those other alternatives.

And the vested interests are very strong. E.g., I was reading an article about high speed rail in TX. There was a previous proposal 20 years ago. But Southwest Airlines fought it tooth and nail because they believed it would affect their intra-TX air travel routes.

Magnify that 1000 fold for everything else...

At 12:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've said it before, and, no doubt, there will be ongoing opportunities to say it many more times, "DC officials confuse economic activity with economic development."

Check out the linked WBJ article--along with the comments from Glen Hellman and his blog commentary on tech and venture funding below.

"Next time you have $400K to burn, why don’t you spend it in an effort to attract Silicon Valley, New England and New York, Early Stage Investors to create an early stage risk capital base in DC. Incent out of town VCs to open up offices here with Tax incentives when they invest here. We don’t need office space. We don’t need another talking head meetup. We don’t need another Idea. We don’t need to send a failed Entrepreneur to New Delhi to grow the cities business base. We need early stage capital to big idea companies that can’t get off the runway. DC has all the elements of a great startup town. All the elements except risk capital and instead of throwing money away. Why don’t you try and invest a million dollars to attract a billion dollars of risk capital? ...and Mayoral Candidates? If you're not asking Mayor Gray what he was thinking when he lit $400K on fire and funded a frat house, you're missing an opportunity."

At 9:13 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

thanks. and I will read Henderson.

Your point about "ec. activity" vs. "ec. dev." is the flip side of something I say, that "ec. dev. is different from 'building a local economy.'" It's about ec. activity vs. long term investment.

At 9:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

P.S. Meant to mention that I thought this was one of your best efforts yet: meaty subject, tasty analysis and (most importantly for those of us with tsetse fly-like attention spans) succinct yet tasty synthesis.

The reason that I want you to check out Henderson is that she has a background in ecology as well as economics and has spent the better part of the last three decades brilliantly deconstructing the myth that economics is a science not an art.

She also posited back in the late '70s, early '80s that the economic activity--business, if you will--of societies moved in cycles: birth, growth, apogee, decline and ultimately death wherein the remaining constituent elements are released to form new economic entities. Unfortunately, our current globalization craze is fueled by the siren song of eternal growth because no one wants deal with the death aspect of the cycle. Hence we have the too-big-to-fail syndrome, mis-allocation of finite resources (another Henderson point from the late '70s) and a technology cult running on a sclerotic, 500 year old operating system of mercantile banking.

At 10:15 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Yow. One of the most important books I ever read was _Social Psychology of Organizations_, which among other things, makes a similar point about organizational life cycles.

I lost it somehow over the years, and of course, it is long out of print.

I happened to buy a copy of the book yesterday though... just to have.

2. When I was involved in college organization stuff, I was exposed to the "campus ecosystem" movement, so I have a sense of that kind of thinking. At that time it wasn't about sustainability but how the campus functioned as a system, the way students developed through their college years, etc. -- I used to have a hard copy of this in fact! But it's long gone too.

This kind of stuff, plus living in Ann Arbor, being exposed to Birmingham (the city next to mine when I was in high school), probably some of my earlier Detroit experiences too definitely shaped my attitude about cities and how I think about them.


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