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Many policymakers and arts advocacy groups have argued that the creative sector impacts the economy. One of the Center for 21st Century Communities' "8 Assets" that make communities better places to live is Cultural Economic Development, which hinges on the argument that artists, creative industries and professionals, museums, festivals, and other facets of the creative sector make communities attractive and generate a positive impact on the economy.
However, in my time interviewing artists and arts organizations as a journalist, one of the biggest needs they frequently identify is the need for more hard data and better sources of proof.
It is not like there is no such data out there. The Bureau of Economic Analysis previously reported some estimates every five years with the benchmark Input-Output Table. Some agencies in communities that identify as "art towns,' like Ann Arbor, have some data on art's impact on the local level (Ann Arbor Arts Alliance's master plan for Washtenaw County is a great example).
Without more macroeconomic data, however, the degree to which the creative sector impacts the economy and other aspects of life has always been a bit hazy and open-ended.
The creative sector might be pleased to hear, for the first time ever, the BEA and the National Endowment for the Arts are partnering to "identify and calculate the arts and culture sector's contributions to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP)," according to a press release sent after the NEA's announcement last week at a public session of the National Council on the Arts.
"Before this, you could look at pieces of the puzzle, now you can see the whole puzzle," says NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman. "Our partnership with BEA gives the arts the same level of precise, national data on GDP as other sectors like manufacturing, construction, and services. I think economists and policymakers will take notice," he was quoted in the press release.
The partnership will develop an "Arts and Cultural Production Satellite Account," which will conduct an impact analysis of "how the arts affect various domains of human life, such as economy, human development, science and technology, and education," reads the press release. It promises to produce data on things like how many people work at museums, how much revenue is generated by architectural firms, how musicians are compensated, and other measures of the creative sector. Preliminary estimates will be release in 2013. In 2014, the BEA will publish findings in The Survey of Current Business.
TED lecturer Ellen Dunham-Jones, an architecture and urban design professor at Georgia Tech, thinks that a major trend for the next 50 years should be “retrofitting suburbia,” she argues. Underutilized areas are wasting space in many suburbs. Dunham-Jones says these frequently include “dying malls,” half empty parking lots, and underperforming strip malls and big box stores. Instead of continuing to eat up more and more green space on the edges of town, she suggests plenty of ways to redesign or redevelop existing suburban communities.
“What do you do with a dead mall or parking lot?” she asks and answers in her lecture. She gives a lot of solid examples of retrofits that have benefited suburban dwellers across the U.S. Art spaces, nursing homes, universities, office spaces, churches, libraries, upscale grocers, and green spaces have all given such spaces a second life. Some of the examples of success stories she talks about actually created brand new main streets and urbanized hubs.
As with many TED lectures, Dunham-Jones’ ideas have traveled via internet to all corners of the globe. Young writer Rashiq Fataar, who started social media website Future Cape Town to encourage 21st-century ready initiatives in Cape Town, South Africa, credits Dunham-Jones in his piece “4 Principles for Re-Designing the Suburbs for the Future.” This post is another interesting read with practical suggestions that can apply to any place, anywhere.
Jennifer Eberbach is a journalist in Ann Arbor, MI. Visit her at www.jenthewriter.info, or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
MSU’s Land Policy Institute has announced survey results on placemaking and the housing industry. With grant money from the National Association of REALTORS®, the LPI asked developers, bankers, and local officials about their perceptions of placemaking and its impact on the housing industry, and about the barriers that impede implementing placemaking projects. Good news for placemaking advocates like the Center for 21st Century Communities (21c3), most developers and bankers “strongly agreed that supporting placemaking needs to be an important part of Michigan strategies to create high-impact economic activity attraction.” Local officials across the board are largely behind it. 95% of those surveyed think it is good for “economic development.”However, over half of surveyed bankers think placemaking projects are at least somewhat financially risky. The survey identifies barriers and reveals that the case for championing placemaking strategies is not cut and dry. It is complex, for example, according to the results placemaking has “the ability to increase home values. Yet, certain placemaking features...are bound to create housing affordability challenges for several sectors of the workforce,” the LPI states. The full report is due out later this year.
Kaid Benfield, Director, Sustainable Communities, discusses how two simple tests can determine whether or not a neighborhood is well-designed for children growing up there. Foregoing complicated jargon about things like mixed use development and traffic planning, the “popsicle test” and the “Halloween test” are simply enough for a kid to understand. In their simplicity there is great insight. Read “The popsicle test, the Halloween test, and neighborhoods for kids” on Kaid Benfield’s Blog.
“If an 8-year-old can safely go somewhere to buy a popsicle, and get back home before it melts, chances are it’s a neighborhood that works,” and it passes the “popsicle test,” Benfield blogs.
“If it’s a good neighborhood for trick-or-treating, then it’s likely to be compact and walkable,” and it passes the “Halloween test,” he explains.
Inspired by a related blog by Scott Doyon on PlaceShakers and NewsMakers, Benfield’s blog supposes that well-connected streets and sidewalks in neighborhoods that are dense with mixed uses are good for kids, and good for adults, too.
Doyon writes; “For a child, having increasing opportunities to navigate the world around them, explore, invent, fall down, scrape knees, make decisions, screw up, get into - and solve - conflicts, and ultimately, achieve a sense of personal identity and self-sufficiency is a good thing. The right thing,” he say.
The point here is that navigating the world around you as a kid is a character builder. Cherished childhood experiences like taking a walk in the summertime to get a popsicle, and maybe eating it at the park, or scraping your knees learning how to ride a bike are threatened by bad neighborhood planning.
Benfield also likes Doyon’s observation; “If the place works for kids, chances are it works for everyone else, too (and, not coincidentally, it also works for the environment).” The question of whether or not a neighborhood is popsicle-and-Halloween-ready is a pretty easy one to answer, but a lot is implied.
Jennifer Eberbach is a professional journalist and writer. Find contact information on her website www.jenthewriter.info
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