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.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Los Angeles Arts District in the artist displacement stage

Last week the Los Angeles Times ran an article, "Arts District's changing landscape is worrisome to longtime residents," about how development pressures in the now in-demand Arts District is pushing up rents and the cost of housing, and is displacing artists.

There's not much new in the piece. The process remains the same.  Especially in real estate markets that have the potential to be strong, for property to appreciate significantly in value.  It's easy to "ward off" displacement in real estate submarkets where there is limited demand.

Artshare Los Angeles is a multifaceted arts organization which includes among its programs the provision of affordable live-work space for artists.

My piece from 2009, "Arts, culture districts and revitalization," which was the basis of a presentation at that year's annual conference for the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas;," is still very much relevant.

The point it makes is that real estate developers can't be expected to be focused on the needs of artists, that artists, arts organizations, and planners need to ensure that artistic disciplines are represented by "their own plans." I made five points:

1. Create your own discipline-specific cultural plan
2. Come up with a sustainable cultural facilities plan for your community (with sub-elements for the various disciplines)
3. Create anchoring cultural institutions
4. Networking-representing cultural interests at the scale of the community
5. Sharing Audiences

But the LA Times article makes clear to me that I should have more clearly differentiated and defined a sixth point, the additional step of having arts-artist controlled community development corporations to acquire and hold properties--artist housing, arts spaces, rehearsal spaces, etc.--to maintain permanent affordability.

This is in line with the point I have been making lately about implementation organizations as an essential element of successful revitalization initiatives.

playhouse-square-real-estateI took for granted that the cultural institution anchors would represent their interests in terms of real estate, the way that the Brooklyn Academy of Music ("Local planner gets the big job: Carlton Brown to plan centerpiece of BAM district," Brooklyn Paper), the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust (history) or Cleveland's Playhouse Square ("PlayhouseSquare stars in its own real estate revival," and "40 years ago, a spark helps Cleveland's PlayhouseSquare find its way back to the lights," Cleveland Plain Dealer), although artist housing and individual studio space tends to be an afterthought in such programs, which tend to focus on creating big presenting facilities (performing arts centers, theaters, museums, etc.).

Note that ArtSpace, which operates at a national scale, does provide technical assistance and develops artist live-work housing across the country, but I think it's better that local organizations own and manage such properties rather than "national" organizations, which may have their own interests too, different from those of local organizations.

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At 3:00 PM, Anonymous Christopher said...

Was thinking about this while reading the profile in NY Mag of the rather bombastic (meaning: very often a jerk) founder of Two Trees in NYC. He was a major force in the development of Dumbo especially, but also the East Village and SoHo. And now Williamsburg. (His firm is redeveloping the Domino Sugar Factory site.)

Anyway, from the very beginning he understood this process of gentrification was that he needed artists to fill those industrial spaces before they could be moved up the chain to even higher dollar renters. He understood that having that mix of art producers and presenters and nonprofit organizations was going to attract the neighborhoods feel safer for the higher paying renters. Artists were from the very beginning a tool for him to maximize the property values. It was no accident.

And not just him, of course, many of the other property owners in SoHo and Tribeca equally understood this process.

Artists and nonprofits really need to stop letting themselves be tools of developers and organize and plan ahead of time as you suggest. Otherwise artists and cultural producers are going to be stepped on. It's what the the developer paradigm is betting on.

At 4:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

as is the case in DC- the artists often start the gentrification- then get the shaft w/o vaseline once the lawyers and realtors realize that something is to be made off of a particular area. For all of their grandstanding about being progressive, the DC government is inferior and extremely backwards if not disincentivizing towrads artists who pioneer bad areas and turn them good.

At 4:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Read some of the stories in East City Arts for the real lowdown on this problem. The lawyers in this city are extremely predatory and the forces that work against creative people here are often insurmountable. And yet- this city has a hidden but very powerful community of working artists- they [we] might not be your stereotypical Soho NYC loft dwelling abstract expressionist painting guys making a mess in their cigarette and trash and paint splatterd garrett, but we are HERE. This city has a museum and curatorial industry that few can match and the supporting personell are all over the place.We might not be suits on K street but we are HERE.

At 4:53 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

well anon, remember that my 2009 piece was written in response to what I perceived happening in DC and the failure to have the right kinds of "infrastructure" in place to support working artists, as opposed to how most of the local agenda focuses on presenting institutions, oh, and producing often bad "public art."

Plus, I should have made clearer that in potentially strong real estate markets (NYC, LA, DC, at least in the last 10-15 years) you should expect that neighborhoods will improve and rents will go up.

At 4:56 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Christopher -- Sharon Zukin's book on this is from 1989. And the papers I reference by John Montgomery are from the mid to late 1990s.

There is so much great academic work out there that isn't being acknowledged and referenced in this work/planning.

But in the US especially, we don't do a good job of simultaneously having nonprofit/public sector participation with the private sector and its interests.

At 10:57 PM, Anonymous Christopher said...

Agreed. And that often means that the private sector and their interests drive the narrative.

My point above (anon) was that the "artists led this" is the typical theory about NYC and SoHo and Dumbo. But I think it's flat out wrong. The property owners knew damn well what the end game was in letting arts and artists be the transitional tenants before the area really grew.

I wrote a paper on gentrification in the early 1990s and looked at academic materials from the 1960s and 70s. Real estate people have long known that artists were the stepping stone to increasing the value of their properties. The point is that artists don't realize they are complicit in this process. Or being used.

At 8:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the thing about DC is that there are no local programs nor does there seem to be much awareness of the local arts economy beyond the usual awarding of grants to the same people who are set up to receive the grants [ it is always the same crowd of artists that get the support ]
unlike towns out west such as in New Mexico- DC has no incentives at all to encourage galleries to open near museums- tax breaks to foster a gallery district as exist in taos and Santa Fe- with our outstanding art museums here one would expect some local understanding but the city officials have proven they are part of Milloy's Ward 9 elite and concern themselves only with sports venues and club boxes at new stadums and couldnt care less about art shows and blockbuster museum exhibits that bring in millions of dollars with visitors from all over the world seeing them. they are happily unaware of any of this. Meanwhile Marion Barry continues to wrack up traffic tickets as he drives around in his Jaguar #55555..........

At 10:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, does this mean no Enrique Norten extravagnza at the BAM site?


At 9:28 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Christopher -- the being used part is why I did that piece/presentation on arts, culture districts and artists.

Artists can't expect real estate firms to represent their interests.

Of course, you can't necessarily expect artists to be good or great planners either.

That's why planning needs to step in and assist.

I have no problem with artistic disciplines "being used" to foster revitalization and I don't think cities have to be apologetic about it.

But that doesn't have to come with a failure to co-equally represent artist interests, including portfolio investement in maintaining housing, studio space, etc.


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