[Homestead] Reviving a city with Creative Class

Tvoivozhd tvoivozd at infionline.net
Tue Sep 28 21:05:50 EDT 2004

And homegrown Creative Class is by far the best.  Chief hazard is cost 
of housing becoming excessive---should be addressed at outset.

	The Christian Science Monitor - csmonitor.com 

from the September 28, 2004 edition - 

    In New England, a city revival built on creativity

*By Sara B. Miller 
| Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

*PORTLAND, MAINE* - When Nat May graduated from college, it was not his 
hometown in southern Maine that beckoned. Instead he left for Asia, with 
plans to learn Mandarin and become a translator of ancient Chinese texts.

When he returned to the US, Portland was only to be a pit stop, a place 
to get his bearings before moving to San Francisco or New York City. 
What he didn't expect to find was his old seaport town showing a vibrant 

"I was surprised to find that it's actually a good place to live for 
young people," says Mr. May, the director of SPACE gallery, a 
contemporary arts venue on a burgeoning arts thoroughfare in downtown 
Portland. "It's really powerful ... to be connected to the things 
happening around you."

While New England was one of the slowest-growing regions in the US in 
the 1990s, Portland stood out as an exception. The city was the only 
metropolis in the region to make the list of the 20 top receivers of 
young, single, college-educated adults from 1995 to 2000.

According to the US census, each of the six New England states lost more 
young, single, college-educated adults than it gained from 1995 to 2000. 
But Portland has emerged as a model that can reverse that trend. It has 
gained recognition for everything from distinctiveness - its working 
waterfront and converted warehouses - to world-class eateries.

"In many respects Portland can be somewhat of a test study in terms of 
some of the things we can do in this area," says Daryl Fort, director of 
community development in Gov. John Baldacci's office. "Other 
[communities] are poised to do the same."

Indeed, urban planners and politicians throughout the region have been 
hammering out initiatives - from tax incentives to folk festivals - to 
help attract young professionals.

And it's a particular type of young worker being wooed: those, like May, 
who make up the "creative workforce," which can include not only artists 
but also technology workers, entrepreneurs, and even lawyers.

Increasingly, cities in this region and elsewhere are following the 
theory that this demographic attracts upscale restaurateurs, organic 
grocers, theater groups, and galleries. These businesses and 
organizations then create a quality of life and "vibe" that prompts 
others to relocate.

"Cities are embracing arts and artists [because they see] a creative 
environment as a cutting edge in the 21st century," says Ann Galligan, a 
professor in the Department of Cooperative Education at Northeastern 
University in Boston. She says cities can no longer depend on a single 
factory or company for municipal success. "A city has to rethink how it 
attracts and maintains workers ... without alienating its traditional 
[working-class] base."

>From Portland to Pawtucket, R.I., cities have embraced this model.

Dr. Galligan was hired by Pawtucket, which is just north of Providence, 
to create a long-term plan for its arts district. In 1998 it created tax 
incentives for artists living within 307 acres in the city center. The 
area encompassed 23 empty mills, says Herb Weiss, the economic and 
cultural-affairs officer in the Department of Planning and 
Redevelopment. He says some 300 artists have moved in since then.

Meanwhile, planners say the city of Burlington, Vt., has become a model 
in adaptive uses for historical buildings, And in Providence, known for 
a vibrant creative economy, the mayor recently institutionalized an 
office of cultural affairs. And back in Maine, Governor Baldacci this 
month accepted recommendations from a statewide committee to foster 
"Maine's creative economy," including a focus on creativity in high 
school and college curricula and an acknowledgment of the role tourism 
plays in the creative economy.

*One Portland convert*

Adam Ayan relocated to Portland from Boston for a job as a mastering 
engineer at Gateway Mastering & DVD. When he first came to the city 
about six years ago as a recent college graduate, he says most of the 
young people in town were either college students or lifers. It was hard 
to meet people, he says. "It's much busier than when I first moved 
here," he says. That includes more specialty stores and restaurants, as 
well as more diversity in the population. "I see a lot more 
transplants.... This is a cool little city."

That is not cause for complacency, though, says Lee Urban, director of 
the city's Planning and Development Department. Six months ago he 
started a task force to brainstorm ways to foster the city's creative 
economy. Among Portland's plans are a music festival next fall and 
continued efforts to create affordable studio and living space for 
artists, and to foster ties between the private and public sectors.

The outmigration of young people in parts of New England is in large 
part tied to high housing prices in the region and job opportunities 
elsewhere. In the Northeast, like parts of California, some price 
appreciations have far outstripped income growth, says Nicolas Retsinas, 
director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University 
in Cambridge, Mass.

"All [New England states] are losing their young and restless 
population," says William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings 
Institution in Washington. He notes that Massachusetts has seen dramatic 
outmigration since 2000. Meanwhile Sun Belt cities like Atlanta and 
Raleigh, N.C., have boomed.

Others say that perhaps the deep Puritan heritage permeating much of New 
England is another reason so many youth have left.

"New England has to get a little more funky," says Robert Leaver, CEO of 
New Commons, an organizational consulting group in Providence working on 
the city's creative economy initiatives.

The notion of the "creative class" emerged in 2002 when Prof. Richard 
Florida of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh said tolerance, 
talent, and technology were the keys to a city's progress. His 
definition of the "creative class" has been dismissed by some academics, 
says Galligan, but urban planners in many small cities - especially in 
university towns facing "brain drain" when recent graduates leave - have 
jumped on the theory.

*The downside*

But not everyone is dubbing these efforts a success. Housing prices have 
soared in many towns, traffic has become more congested, and the 
character is different.

"Everything's changing," said Celia Ostrowski, a senior in Portland who 
was taking a walk across from the old Porteous department store, now the 
home of Maine College of Art. She loves the vibrancy of the young 
community, but she also worries about paying her rent. "I don't know 
what's going to happen to us."

This so-called "SoHo effect" - when old-timers are pushed out and prices 
skyrocket so much that not even artists can afford to live in the 
community - has been addressed by many city leaders.

Mr. Weiss says Pawtucket has been careful to attract residents who will 
make a commitment to the community and be able to afford their work 
spaces and homes.

"We want [newcomers] to be long-term residents of the community," he says.

Jennifer Hutchins, a graduate student at the Muskie School of Public 
Service at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, helped research 
the report and recommendations that the governor accepted this fall. 
They found that in 2002, Maine's creative economy - if defined as arts, 
culture, and technology - employed 10 percent of the workforce.

"One of the goals of the report was to provide a model by which other 
rural states could apply what we found," she says.

Still, others have been wary of the very notion that creativity will be 
able to turn a town's economic tide, says Mr. Leaver of Providence. "A 
lot of people still believe that Providence's future is in services or 
financial services," he says.

He disagrees. He says the days of economic buoyancy by way of a big bank 
relocating to town are over.

And for as much as Puritan traditions may have clamped down eccentricity 
in some pockets, he draws on the spirit of "pulling yourself up by the 
bootstraps" in growing Providence's creative class. These days, 
municipal success is a matter of "growing your own," he says, "and 
strengthening what you've got."

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