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, May 27, 2015

National Endowment for the Arts Creative Placemaking initiatives

I decided to extract this from the Arts roundup piece because I meant to make some additional points.
From email:
Creative placemaking is when artists, arts organizations, and community development practitioners integrate arts and culture into community revitalization work—placing arts at the table with land-use, transportation, economic development, education, housing, infrastructure, and public safety strategies. The NEA's programs support local efforts to enhance quality of life and opportunity for residents, increase creative activity, and create a distinct sense of place.

The arts are an integral component of building vibrant communities and as part of its commitment to supporting arts-based community development, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is posting information on funding opportunities and a new creative placemaking resource. These are:
Since Our Town's inception in 2011, the NEA has awarded 256 grants totaling more than $21 million in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

In addition, the NEA has created the online resource Exploring Our Town, with more than 70 case studies and lessons learned from organizations working in communities large and small, urban and rural across the country. In July, the NEA will announce the 2015 grantees, including projects from the new project type of supporting knowledge-building in the field of creative placemaking.
2.  There are some tensions within "arts-based revitalization." The first has to do with how artists are the pioneers who "pacify and improve" disinvested areas to the point where people less comfortable with chaos are clamoring to move in.  It ends up being a real estate play.  Prices go up and artists end up being crowded out by even newer entrants.

See the discussion in "Art, culture districts, and revitalization," "More thoughts on suburban hipness (it's really about commercial hipness generally, not urban vs. suburban)," and "Naturally occurring innovation districts | Technology districts and the tech sector."

Lights Out! but somebody's home: art is the vanguard of gentrification
I took this photo in Baltimore, in a neighborhood where half the properties were empty.  If someone moves into an empty house, or builds on an empty lot, is that gentrification or inward investment?

The second is how people see arts-based revitalization as a specific strategy to displace the less well off.

I suppose that can be true over long periods of time.  But that's only in the strongest of markets, mostly Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Western Los Angeles County.

Loads of Fun Gallery, North Avenue, Station North Arts & Entertainment District.  Panoramio photo by Avagara.

Generally, the places I've witnessed this kind of revitalization initiative tend to be places with a lot of vacant property, so I have a hard time seeing the displacement element, when the biggest problem is absorbing un-used and under-utilized properties.

The third has to do with arts as consumption vs. arts as production.  Imbalances in how arts are promoted and consumed and the place of working artists can make it difficult for such initiatives to succeed.  Examples in the DC-Baltimore area illustrate the problem. That I think is a problem with a lot of the creative placemaking efforts in the arts, although there are some great examples of a better mix of production and consumption including:

- Gordon Square Arts District, Cleveland
- Penn Avenue Arts Initiative, Pittsburgh
- Playhouse Square, Cleveland ("The Howard and Lincoln Theatres: run them like the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust/Playhouse Square Cleveland model")
- Station North Arts and Entertainment District, Baltimore

(Also see "Culture districts in Europe."  Some examples would be Arabianranta in Helsinki, Cable Factory in Helsinki, The City of the Book in Aix-en-Provence, and La Friche in Marseille.)

It's difficult to do "arts-based revitalization' in DC because even in bad times, property values are comparatively high. That's why Baltimore has so much more opportunity compared to DC. Not only does it have lots of big buildings, which DC doesn't have, but they're cheap, and Baltimore is convenient to DC, Philadelphia, and New York City.

Brentwood Arts Center, Prince George's County
Brentwood Arts Center, Rhode Island Avenue, Brentwood, Maryland (Prince George's County).

It's difficult to do "arts-based revitalization" in certain places even if property costs are low, if there isn't much center or core to the area.

The Gateway Arts District in Prince George's County is a good example of that. despite the great intentions and efforts of residents, artists, the local governments, and other stakeholders. (See "More on arts districts.")

3.  Anyway, I wish the NEA would create a national Cultural Capital program comparable to that in the European Union, with large and small city participation.   I wrote about this idea in the Europe in Baltimore blog:
The European Capital of Culture program is also a great model, where, with the support of national and state-regional governments, city revitalization efforts and the development and realization of a wide range of new cultural and physical infrastructure are fostered and accelerated. 
Cities like Liverpool have had tremendous success in leveraging these events to rebrand and reposition and expand their tourism promotion efforts on a multifold basis. The US could do a similar program, just as the UK is doing with its new City of Culture program, with separate tranches for large cities and smaller towns and rural areas. In some respects, the “heritage areas” programs at the state and national level do some of this, but in the US these programs do not receive the kind of attention and funding accorded to the European Capital of Culture program. 
Other Pan-European programs could be adapted to the US as well with the aim of achieving similar impacts, not just for economic development and best practice adoption, but on community building, sustainabilitly, and social inclusion dimensions also. These programs include the European Green Capital and European Youth Capital programs by the EU and the EuroScience Open Forum “Science in the City” festival.
E.g., for creative economy approaches in rural areas, see Greg Baeker's piece, "Building a Creative Rural Economy" from Municipal World, Canada's leading magazine for local governments.  Mr. Baeker is now at the consulting firm Millier Dickinson Blais, and they have a great resource page on this and related topics.

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