Message From PD&R Senior Leadership
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The Power of Creative Placemaking

Image of Rachelle Levitt, Director of PD&R's Research Utilization Division.Rachelle Levitt, Director of PD&R's Research Utilization Division.

Creative placemaking captures the energy of local cultural assets, transforming distressed communities into vibrant neighborhoods. Its community roots can stimulate the development of cultural amenities and affordable housing.

For example, DA+HC in the South Side of Chicago, 2016 American Institute of Architects/HUD Secretary’s Award for Housing and Community Design award winner in the Creating Community Connections category, created an Arts Center that has become a community resource and cultural center. Residents and neighbors of all ages use the center for yoga, classes, performances, discussion groups, exhibits, and more, and local institutions such as the Hyde Park School of Dance and the South Shore Fine Arts Academy offer programs at the center that serve South Side children and youth. Using the arts to revitalize a community and introducing the Arts Center as a community asset are innovative strategies for an affordable housing development.

As a forthcoming issue of Cityscape states, “Especially innovative was how the project flipped traditional development on its head. Rather than being initiated by a developer, the community nonprofit had a vision for the project, sought out an architect to articulate the vision, and partnered with an affordable housing developer and the Chicago Housing Authority to bring the vision to fruition.” The project has attracted not only neighborhood partners but also citywide institutions such as the Joffrey Ballet.

Similarly, developers located community amenities adjacent to the Sage Park Apartments workforce housing project in Los Angeles, including 16,500 square feet of patio and garden areas and a 2,900-square-foot center for use by residents and school staff. The center includes storage and exhibition space for California Impressionist artworks collected by Gardena High School graduating classes between 1919 and 1956.

The nonprofit CulturalDC seeks solutions to arts-related space needs, such as the creation of affordable live/work studios and gallery and performing arts spaces. CulturalDC maintains a web-based service that facilitates matchmaking between developers in search of space and space owners. They also design and implement public art projects that enhance and complement the urban landscape and instill community pride. CulturalDC staff believe that although art does not address income inequality, it does inform, inspire, and uplift, enhancing the quality of life for everyone. The organization is committed to ensuring that art remains accessible and affordable to all: artists, arts organizations, audiences, residents, visitors, and communities. CulturalDC’s work demonstrates the power of art as an economic and cultural engine to revitalize and enliven communities.

Creative placemaking can take many forms. In the October 2016 issue of Urban Land, Juanita Hall describes The Hall, a blighted warehouse that remained vacant for seven years before being purchased by Developers/Partners Tidewater Capital, a San Francisco–based investment and development firm, and War Horse, a Baltimore-based development firm, in 2013.

The building is in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, which faces high crime and poverty rates, unemployment, and other challenges. Currently, The Hall is being used as a community gathering space, featuring food stalls, a bar, and special events in 4,000 square feet of temporary retail space, until the site can be redeveloped later in 2017. The redevelopment will provide 186 units of market-rate and affordable rental housing above 10,000 square feet of retail space.

Creative placemaking energizes and empowers a population to build on its assets and can transform places into desirable and healthy communities. The examples provided here harness the imagination and forces of the public and private sectors to create value for communities through the arts.