I am skeptically intrigued by the Creative CityMaking project. Although conceptually, attempts to marry city planning and economic development with the arts are omnipresent; the facilitation via Intermedia Arts suggests promise. Intermedia’s stated mission is to lend a voice to the frequently voiceless and underrepresented. Within the economic development realm, power and practice have historically colluded to render many communities mute. Despite a marked improvement in outreach and empowerment on the part of the planning community over the past few decades, real engagement often remains elusive. In consideration of long-term citywide plans and economic development agendas, interaction at community meetings suggests planners are asking permission to enact already vetted actions rather than seeking to engage residents in envisioning the future based on that community’s perception of need. Therefore, Intermedia’s place at the table holds promise in this endeavor at real engagement.
The call to engage the arts is a high priority for most cities. The rise in partnership governance, which necessitates enrollment of corporate and third sector funds and vision in order to ‘reshape’ urban landscapes, is centered on a belief that cities must be entrepreneurial in order to survive in the global economy. After several decades of entrepreneurial efforts, the term creative has supplanted entrepreneurial in the planning and economic development lexicon. The hope was/is that such things as theaters, murals, and artists will foster landscapes that attract ‘creatives’ and their investments. Or the arts themselves might develop into sustainable economies of production.
From a place of experience creative spaces are visually engaging and interesting and the endeavor has certainly advanced the creative industries. From a critical perspective though, the creative concept has been stretched quite thin. Within the economic development and planning literature it appears that creative place-making is a cure-all for most everything; from crime (insert mural) to housing decline (insert ‘creatives induced’ gentrification). The promise of the term ‘creative’ masks realities such as displacement, uneven development, and inaffordability. But I noted the call to engage the arts remains a high priority for cities.
I’m still unclear as to the exact roles the artists were expected to play in this creative place-making process in Minneapolis. Each engaged in different ways and in a variety of projects and neighborhoods. I can only speak to Wing’s role as we’ve talked about his engagement with Jim Voll and the communities in North Minneapolis. I do find the ways in which Wing and Ashley sought to engage residents at community events and meetings to be…dare I say…inspiringly creative-but more than that; intuitive, reflective, and realistic. I do not doubt that their enrollment will provide valuable insights for city planners as well as the communities themselves. Yet I am only cautiously optimistic. Like many endeavors to engage, interpretation of success can be based simply on how well the interactions went or what was learned from each party. From the community’s perspective trust is the ultimate measure of success, however, and trust is not awarded without a visible outcome; and experienced improvement in their quality of life. I look forward to learning more about the various groups; their visions and outcomes from this project. But more, I hope for translation…the translation of this creative city place-making knowledge… into action-giving voice to the frequently voiceless.
– Brenda Kayzar, Ph.D., Geography Professor, Urban Studies Program, University of Minnesota