Curating Stronger Community through Intentional Placemaking
Decades ago, who would have thought that the graffiti-covered walls of deteriorated industrial buildings would catalyze the regeneration of an entire urban community? The 2016 ULI Global Award for Excellence presented to Miami’s Wynwood Walls underscores how all types of art can become the foundation for economically successful placemaking.
A panel at ULI Washington’s recent Trends Conference explored strategies for strengthening communities’ identity and economic vitality with arts programming and local institutions. The session was moderated by Andy Shallal, proprietor of Busboys and Poets, a combined bookstore, restaurant, and performance venue with several locations in the Washington, D.C., area.
Shallal pointed out that creative placemaking can lead to gentrification, which, in turn, can cause displacement. Successfully regenerating urban neighborhoods can quickly become too expensive for the artists and longtime residents who created their communities’ allure to begin with. “Displacement is an unintended consequence, but we keep doing it,” he said.
Displacement does not always occur, argued Jim Brooks of City Solutions. It happens in strong markets, but not necessarily in weaker ones. It can be avoided by building in affordability over the long term, he noted, through land trusts, covenants, and similar measures. He also cited the success of a number of HOPE VI projects, which preserved affordable housing for many longtime residents. “There is always pressure to build for the market rate,” he warned.
Heidi Zimmer’s organization, ArtSpace, is devoted to creating, fostering, and preserving affordable space for artists and arts organizations. Financing usually combines state and federal low-income housing tax credits with a variety of other sources to maintain income-qualified housing and/or studio space for artists. The need for this type of housing became obvious in 2016 when a fire killed 36 people in an Oakland, California, warehouse that had been converted to an artists’ collective.
In 2006, the Washington, D.C., Department of Housing and Community Development asked ArtSpace to help expand and renovate Dance Place, which had helped generate a renaissance of development and investment in the city’s Brookland neighborhood since 1986. ArtSpace and Dance Place formed a partnership to create a unique arts complex that is being built in two phases. Phase I, the mixed-use Brookland ArtSpace Lofts, is now in operation, while fundraising is underway for the complete renovation and expansion of Dance Place’s existing theater. Brookland’s subsequently built $250 million mixed-use Monroe Street Market, using no public funding, includes 27 artists’ studios designated affordable in perpetuity.
Since its founding in 1979, ArtSpace has expanded to operate in 20 states across the United States. Its completed projects include nearly 2,000 live/work units and millions of square feet of nonresidential community and commercial space.
Juanita Hardy, ULI’s senior visiting fellow for creative placemaking, believes that collaboration is the key to successful arts-focused community redevelopment with minimal displacement. ULI’s Building Healthy Places Initiative, as part of a two-year creative placemaking project funded by the Kresge Foundation, has identified ten best practices in this area, summarized below and in her article in the March/April 2017 issue of Urban Land magazine:
- Begin with the end in mind. Envision what you would like to see, but also what you do not want to see, such as displacement of existing residents.
- Bring in artists and the community early. Timing is everything. Art and culture need to be central to the project’s design.
- “Mine” local art and cultural assets. Creative placemaking works best when used to amplify local community assets.
- Engage local artists. Find and recruit artists in the local community, including visual artists, performing artists, poets, writers, musicians, designers, chefs, and other creative types.
- Understand and articulate stakeholder benefits. Explore how art and culture can contribute to both the social and economic vitality of a project.
- Form cross-sector partnerships, including artists, community members, and public and private sector organizations.
- Identify the critical skills needed to deliver on project goals and outcomes. Collaboration is critical to the success of a project.
- Look for early wins to generate excitement, visibility, and buy-in. For example, use pop-ups and community gatherings to gain engagement while awaiting entitlements.
- Maintain a long view. Don’t stop when the goals of the built environment are met. Consider programming that keeps the community engaged and the place alive and exciting.
- Pursue creative financing. Money can come from unforeseen, unexpected places—even, for example, a casino.