Planning November 2015

When Arts and Culture Take Center Stage

Each city may need a slightly different approach.

By Christine Kreyling

You know the script. A couple of artists move into a decaying area minimally occupied by light industry. They rent a floor in a brick warehouse as studio space, neglecting to tell the landlord they'll also be living there. Others, hearing of the small rents for big square footage and the lack of neighbors' complaints about paint fumes, welding dust, and after-midnight jam sessions, follow.

The arrivistes hang together at a corner bar whose long-term denizens have never ordered a Lite anything and fondly recall when they could smoke inside. Coffee roasting comes to a former TV repair shop. Next arrival: a bakery. The owners start a storefront partnership; furnishings include tables with uneven legs, a refrigerator case from a restaurant salvage store, and an espresso machine that cost more than their respective cars. Soon the artists form a collective and stage monthly exhibits with live music. A taco truck shows up for the graffiti show. The corner bar begins offering craft beers and tapas. A blues club opens in a former AFL-CIO hall, a bistro in a decommissioned gas station.

Fast forward a decade or two. Loft living has spread across what is now the Eastside Neighborhood. An organic grocery occupies the old bus barn. The streets feature wider sidewalks, trees, bike lanes, and public art. The mayor leads the parade commencing the annual Hot August in the Cool East Festival. The pioneer artists, meanwhile, shake their heads at their latest rent bills.

This largely unplanned scenario has played out in cities across the country. These days, however, civic leaders and urban planners have moved from the role of passive observers to active facilitators. "Over the past decade we've experienced a real focus on arts and culture in planning and economic development strategizing," says Arista Strungys, AICP, of Camiros, Ltd., a Chicago-based firm that consults with government planning agencies.

"Cities have seen neighborhoods revitalized with arts and culture and [have] come to recognize the arts as an economic development tool," she adds. "In addition, strong arts and neighborhood organizations have evolved and understand better what they need from cities to thrive. And planners now desire to be more sustainable, which brings in health and culture."

 

 

Policy papers

Many planning efforts to encourage arts and culture — A/C in the parlance of practitioners — result in policy documents. These come in two basic forms: a section devoted to A/C integrated into a city's comprehensive plan, or a stand-alone plan specifically devoted to the arts.

"Arts and culture need to be included in general plans because it's important to take a holistic approach, where the decision makers from different fields, including the cultural affairs director, work together," says David Plettner-Saunders of the Cultural Planning Group, a consulting firm focusing on what it describes as "creative placemaking."

"But in a general plan the role of arts and culture is more limited, the treatment less comprehensive and detailed than in a strategic plan for an arts agency," he adds.

Nashville has done both. The NashvilleNext general plan, a 2015 product of the Metro Nashville Planning Department, includes a policy chapter on "Arts, Culture & Creativity" as well as a section on the topic in its action plan segment. Crafting a Creative City is the five-year strategic plan released this past April by the Metro Nashville Arts Commission.

"We waited to do our strategic plan until NashvilleNext was fairly far along, to know directionally where we should go," says MNAC executive director Jennifer Cole. "The NashvilleNext process allowed us to listen to larger city issues and discover how the programs we've traditionally done — grants and public art — can be big-picture directors."

Cole sees the new focus within arts organizations "on cities as drivers of new practices" as a national trend. "The arts folks are sitting at more tables now: planning and zoning, transportation and housing."

 

Active Couch Place, a placemaking campaign in Chicago, draws scores of people to a downtown alley with pop-up art installations, music, a fashion show, and circus performers

 

Active Couch Place, a placemaking campaign in Chicago, draws scores of people to a downtown alley with pop-up art installations, music, a fashion show, and circus performers. Photo courtesy LoopChicago.com.

 

Nuts and bolts

Policy documents, whether comprehensive city plans or arts agency strategic plans, tend to be painted with a broad brush. They proffer statistics on the millions or billions of dollars that cultural activities contribute to a city's annual economy and make the obligatory nod to Richard Florida.

Their compliers take suggestions made in outreach workshops and puree them into all-purpose goals. The target may be worthy — e.g., "Create or streamline land use, zoning, and permitting tools to encourage the creation and enhancement of creative neighborhoods and cultural districts" (from NashvilleNext) — but the path to it is not obvious.

Tactics for revising Nashville's light industry zoning were more nuts and bolts. For the past several years Cole had been dealing on a case-by-case basis with frustrated artists whose means of production were disallowed by zoning regulations.

"I had 30 clay artists who wanted to practice as a co-op, but there was no business model for small-batch-manufacturing [or] for-profit shared space," Cole says. More generally, "the rules on heavy equipment, storage, and parking were barriers to artists; the retail footprint was capped too low; and there was no allowance for on-site housing. The planning staff wanted to be supportive, but had no idea how to deal with, say, a glassblower."

Cole says she and the planners "formed a SWAT team with A/C types to come up with the underlying factors" that needed addressing. The team crafted a "Manufacturing, Artisan" text amendment to Nashville's zoning ordinance, approved by the Metro Council in July 2015.

The amendment allows for artisan shared use, no more than two residential units per lot as an accessory use (to prevent an explosion of condos), increases the allowable footprint for retail that's accessory to artisan manufacturing, and permits performance spaces and rehearsal halls — essential to the city's musicians — of up to 20,000 square feet.

 

 

Taking a proactive approach to arts and culture planning, rather than a reactive one, is the best way to ensure realistic, effective arts and culture plans that complement the surrounding community and minimize unintended consequences. Source: Arts and Culture Planning: A Toolkit for Communities, courtesy Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.

 

The toolkit

A proactive rather than reactive approach is found in Arts and Culture Planning: A Toolkit for Communities. Produced in 2014 by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning with help from Camiros, the toolkit's target audience is elected officials and municipal staff in CMAP's seven-county region.

But Stephen Ostrander, a senior planner with CMAP and overseer of the toolkit's development, says its application "could benefit many communities. It poses questions and raises issues that are common to many cities."

The toolkit lays out in detail the components of the planning process: preparation, assessment, and implementation, with participation and input from stakeholders, community groups, and the public a key feature of each. The components are divided into a series of steps that can be tailored to the development and implementation of a specific policy or project or to developing a series of policies and regulations for a community.

The toolkit's emphasis on preparation is especially helpful because this stage is often shortchanged, resulting in unrealistic plans or unintended consequences down the road.

In determining the "arts identity" it wants to create or enhance, a community is reminded that "a vibrant arts scene no longer means a street lined with art galleries" but can also include theater, music, culinary arts, applied arts such as industrial or graphic design, fashion design, and media arts.

The arts identity is shaped by those arts for which a community may have a special affinity as well as the A/C assets already present. In addition to buildings and infrastructure, Ostrander says, communities should consider "assets such as people and activity that have so far been under the radar."

The toolkit next lays out the functional needs of the various arts. Assessing existing and potential resources to meet these needs is important to successful projects. If, for example, a community has an old, underutilized movie theater, then performance arts might be worth incorporating into the plan.

Secondary functional needs usually include affordable art production space and housing, especially for younger artists. Live/work quarters relieve artists from paying for separate space to practice their craft. For arts with a retail component, arts incubator spaces, often operated and maintained by a local arts organization, can augment artist incomes.

While economic development and neighborhood revitalization are among the notable positive results of encouraging arts and culture, there may be secondary impacts, particularly on adjacent and nearby properties and on inhabitants of residential areas. Turning that old movie theater into a live performance venue can deliver noise, traffic, late-night crowds, and some boozy behaviors. Acknowledging potential impacts on the front end, selecting the appropriate setting — such as commercial or mixed use areas — for higher impact arts activities, and developing regulations to mitigate impacts forestalls future conflicts.

"It's easier to be up front with impacts and regulations, so property owners, residents, and artists all know what they're buying into," says Strungys. "For example, you can address noise with hours of operation and closed window requirements, but only if everyone acknowledges that noise could be an issue and that all have to play by the rules."

After goals have been established, the assessment phase identifies what is currently working for and against these goals. The most obvious "against" are regulatory roadblocks to certain arts-related land uses and activities in the form of zoning, building codes, health department rules, and nuisance ordinances.

Strategies to negotiate these barriers must be developed and implemented. To this end, the toolkit offers a glossary of model regulatory language for arts and culture ordinances, standards for uses to mitigate impacts, and guidance on constructing an arts district, whether through a zoning overlay or base zoning. The toolkit points out, however, what regulations can and can't do.

"Zoning sets the table and municipalities invite the guests," explains Strungys. "Zoning regulations can allow certain development types, such as smaller residential units. But development won't necessarily occur due to regulations alone. To push development you need marketing and incentives: reduced parking requirements, density bonuses, tax credits, and programs like TIF [tax increment financing], PILOT [payment in lieu of taxes], and BIDs [business improvement districts]."

 

Making Space to Create in Colorado

In June 2015, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper announced the launch of Space to Create Colorado, the first statewide initiative in the U.S. to provide affordable housing and workspace for artists and arts organizations. The initiative will target rural, small-town, and mountain communities, many of which are still struggling with high unemployment. As part of the program, nine projects will be developed in eight regions across the state over the next eight years.

The new Space to Create initiative is part of the Creative District Program, run by Colorado Creative Industries (coloradocreativeindustries
.org), which certifies certain arts and cultural communities within the state and provides funding through competitive grants programs to help Colorado "grow its own" creative workforce.

Telluride, Colorado (pop. 2,370), located in the southwest part of the state, was one of the first communities certified as a creative district.

The Telluride Arts District showcases and promotes a wide variety of arts, including culinary, visual, literary, and performance art, as well as architecture and design

Image: The Telluride Arts District showcases and promotes a wide variety of arts, including culinary, visual, literary, and performance art, as well as architecture and design. Photo by Aurelie Slegers.

Planning on the ground

Every community has its own history and character, physical fabric, and socioeconomic issues. The CMAP toolkit presents techniques that mean communities aren't reinventing the wheel in their arts and culture planning. But putting a plan on the ground requires a nuanced approach tailored to the context.

Colorado's recently announced initiative in affordable housing and workspace for artists and arts organizations, for instance, is geared to the state's rural areas, where the economy has weakened because of declines in agricultural exports and crop, livestock, and energy prices. Nashville's Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency, on the other hand, constructed Ryman Lofts in 2013 — a $5.5 million, 60-unit, artist-preference affordable rental housing block — on the edge of a booming downtown where land values and rents are soaring.

Then there's Wynwood. This 205-acre, 50-city-block area in Miami's urban core was in the last century the city's garment district and an enclave for Caribbean immigrants. A decade of business exodus left behind a surplus of vacant factories and warehouses. Their windowless concrete walls became the canvases for spontaneous "street art" that attracted artists from all over to create their own installations. The art magnetized developers, who acquired dilapidated properties that became galleries, performance spaces, creative offices, restaurants, cafes, and other adaptive reuses.

To take Wynwood to the next level, the city-chartered Wynwood Business Improvement District commissioned PlusUrbia Design to craft a comprehensive zoning plan as well as redevelopment guidelines for what is now the Wynwood Neighborhood Revitalization District. While the plan and guidelines contain many elements typical of current urban design practice, a central intent is the preservation and enrichment of the street art culture that instigated the neighborhood's renaissance.

To preserve mural walls and encourage new infill receptive to street art, the plan creates a transfer of development rights program that allows warehouse owners and infill developers to sell their air rights, reducing the pressure for over-scale development.

Zoning changes focus on allowing more residential development, in particular micro-units and live/work spaces to preserve affordability. The zoning revisions also permit artisan manufacturing, including the breweries, distilleries, and coffee roasting facilities that were nonconforming under the old code, with an attached retail component.

Another gesture toward affordability is the reduction of on-site parking requirements, which also enables development more suitable to Wynwood's often small lots. To discourage gaps in street walls made by surface parking, the plan creates a system for developers to pay into a fund to build centralized garages. And if property owners want to boost their allowable density, they can contribute to a fund dedicated to parks, open space, and other infrastructure improvements within Wynwood's boundaries. A design review board composed of Wynwood stakeholders will advise the city's planners on the compatibility of new development.

Pedestrian ambiance is enhanced by a sidewalk width expansion from five to 10 feet in new developments, with public cut-throughs called paseos to break up long blocks. A street-calming device is the introduction into alleys of woonerfs, the Dutch-derived, curbless streets that intermingle vehicular and pedestrian traffic on surfaces such as cobblestones that promote slow driving.

When asked if he thought his firm's recipe for Wynwood could serve as a model for other cities, PlusUrbia's Juan Mullerat laughs. "I don't know if I'd dare apply to another city what we've done in Wynwood. It was a very bottom-up process instigated by Wynwood property owners and very labor intensive. We listened to anyone who had an idea about what should happen, did research lot by lot. Plus, Wynwood is a pretty unique place."

Christine Kreyling is the author of The Plan of Nashville and coauthor of the recently released Shaping the Healthy Community: The Nashville Plan. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and The Sea Ranch, California.

 

Preserving Parramore

By Jim Sellen

In the first half of the last century, there was one place where you could be sure to run into the great African American leaders and celebrities of the day such as Jackie Robinson and Ray Charles. That was Parramore, an 819-acre community in downtown Orlando, Florida. With landmarks like the Wells' Built Hotel, where famous black leaders like Thurgood Marshall stayed when they weren't allowed in white-only hotels, and the historic South Street Casino, which featured entertainers like Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, and B.B. King, Parramore was a vibrant community of about 18,000 in the 1950s.

However, during the 1960s, Parramore followed a pattern familiar to many urban communities: Desegregation enabled its African American middle class to move to more affluent areas. Then, the construction of Interstate 4 isolated Parramore from the rest of downtown. Unemployment and poverty became widespread. The community's two elementary schools closed. By the start of the 21st century, Parramore's population dropped to just over 6,000.

In conjunction with recent efforts by Orlando's Community Redevelopment Agency to revitalize downtown Orlando, Mayor Buddy Dyer launched an initiative in 2005 to address Parramore's needs. In 2014, planners from VHB were selected to help the city's team create a comprehensive neighborhood plan that focused on transforming Parramore into a 21st century community with all the physical, economic, and social components that made it work in the mid-1950s and before.

The team started with an expansive community engagement process and learned the hopes and dreams of residents: They wanted a neighborhood celebrating the historic culture and soul of Parramore where their children could thrive.

With culture as a focus, the team proposed a Historical and Cultural Heritage District with shops and restaurants celebrating African American culture along two of the community's main streets, West Church Street and Parramore Avenue. This district envisions the recreation of the historic South Street Casino — not a gambling hall but an entertainment venue, as it always had been — to help bring the soul of the community back to life.

The plan aims to preserve the integrity of old neighborhoods through low-density zoning that prevents higher value, higher intensity new construction from displacing current residents. The team's recommendations include housing programs to build new housing to attract families and reestablish Parramore's population.

Kids first

Other elements of the plan that focus on culture and the children of Parramore are already being implemented. The Wells' Built Hotel is now a museum that memorializes the cultural heritage of Parramore. A new K–8 school, now under construction, will serve as a community hub with space for activities and classes offered outside school hours. A Boys & Girls Club, also under construction, will help support the children and families that create strong neighborhoods. The University of Central Florida is locating its new downtown campus in Parramore, and a local benefactor will pay college tuition at that campus for any child from Parramore who graduates from high school.

Community leaders hope to make Parramore worthy of children's affection, creating an environment where they can feel at home and find their special places. They are, after all, the ones who will inherit it and become responsible for its future.

Jim Sellen is the Florida planning practice leader at VHB. He has more than 35 years of experience working in both the public and private sector.

The Art of Transit

By Erick Mertz

A procession of members from the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde greeted the first TriMet train coming across the
Tilikum Crossing Bridge just after sunrise. September 12, 2015, had arrived, the debut date for TriMet's Orange Line, the fifth route in the Portland, Oregon, metro area's light-rail system.

As with any proper maiden voyage, toasts were given, and the celebratory anticipation was palpable. The brand-new north-south train service offers a direct connection between the downtown core at Portland State University with the suburban town of Milwaukie, seven miles to the south.

Local history and culture are an integral aspect of the train line's loping corridor, touching some of the more venerable neighborhoods in the metropolitan area. When passengers cross the Willamette River on the Tilikum Bridge and step off at stations with names like Tacoma, Holgate, and Bybee, they'll be embracing local culture in more than just the nuance of place name. They'll be immersed in a series of artistic renderings of the unique communities they call home.

TriMet's local arts plan was in the works early in the Orange Line's conception, created in tandem with the first architectural renderings and given high priority in the project's first projected budgets. "For the most part, everything about the Orange Line was planned in-house," says Michelle Traver, public art coordinator for TriMet. The five-year process started in July 2010 and included contributor selection, keeping tabs on artists at work, communicating with architects, and representing transit users' worldviews — gleaned via more than 1,000 meetings.

In large part, Pacific Northwest artists were commissioned to create the art installations in all of the Orange Line stations and along the tracks. The select few, numbering more than a dozen, were culled from 225 applicants from all over the globe. "We couldn't just take anyone," Traver remarks. "We had to be rigorous in our criteria." Train station windscreens were etched to resemble the flow of the nearby Willamette and characteristic wood grains of native birch. Jim Blashfield's stainless steel obelisk, a video installation called Flooded Data Machine, includes slow-moving images that refer to local history, culture, and business traditions.

The result: The Orange Line features a variety of art, from placards describing local history, to lavish murals, to rowboats in a tree-lined median. Everything had to be representative.

As an organization, TriMet above all must connect communities at work and play, but the experience of riding reveals their commitment as so much more. They ensure commuters remain connected to their neighborhoods even when they have to be away. (See the artworks at http://tinyurl.com/or7z9xk).

Erick Mertz is a freelance writer in Portland. He previously worked in the public sector as a program manager for individuals with developmental disabilities.