Thursday, November 19, 2009

So, what'd you think? And what now?

(photo by Chion Wolf. View the rest of the set.)

Thanks to those who joined us last night for Where We Live @ Real Art Ways: Locating Creativity, and for making that conversation so interesting.

If you missed either the live recording or the 9 AM broadcast on WNPR,  it's streaming online here.

We want to hear more from you: send us questions, stories, thoughts, concerns, etc., to, or leave a comment.

Also, please do tell us what you want to see next: what's important to you in Hartford? What conversations would you like to see us have for future events?

To get us started, here's Jude Russell's take on last night at  Scenic Root.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Creativity is Everywhere

(photo by Chion Wolf)
Food for thought. As I have been researching and preparing for the program at Real Art Ways tomorrow - I have come across so many people and organizations talking about creativity and city-making. This is not a new idea, cities have been "getting creative" for years. There are experts, authors and consultants working with cities all over the world - to tap into their potential and rejuvenate struggling urban areas. It goes beyond Richard Florida and his 2002 book "The Rise of the Creative Class". Creativity is everywhere.

Charles Landry helps cities reach their potential by triggering their imagination and thinking. (You can hear more from him on our website.)

The National Endowment for the Arts and CEO's for Cities have paired up for a six month tour to have a series of meetings exploring creative cities.

Big, Red & Shiny is a forum for criticism, discussion and promotion of the arts in New England.

Next American City is a magazine that observes, documents, and conceives realistic solutions about how to improve cities.

Peter Kageyama runs Creative Cities Productions. He was part of the Creative Places + Spaces forum in Toronto, Canada.

Also out of Toronto, Mapping AuthentiCity.

New England Foundation for the Arts

Cities x Design is a 30-city trans-media research trip that is recorded online (and will eventually be a film, exhibition and book). They see the current crisis as an opportunity to rethink the role of design in society.

The Connecticut-based International Centre for Creativity and Imagination, led by Steve Dahlberg (who will be teaching a UConn course on "creativity and social change".)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Locating Creavity: Wednesday 5:30PM. (Be there.)

We've lined up a lot of great community members to join our conversation this Wednesday night at Real Art Ways. The main panelist will be David Panagore from the City of Hartford - talking in part about the "One City One Plan" initiative, and also about the city might be able to tap into the creative class that exists in Hartford. As we've mentioned before, at Where We Live we like to benchmark. Not to say that cities like Worcester, Northampton or Providence are the same as Hartford - and that works for them will work for us. But inspiration is not a bad thing. Stephanie Fortunato will join us from Providence, to talk about the "Creative Providence" campaign, and we'll hear excerpts from an interview with Charles Landry, an international expert on city transformation, author of "The Art of City Making" and "The Creative City". (Hear the whole interview at our website).

Hope to see you on Wednesday! Leave your comments and questions...

Rick Green's CTConfidential

Rick Green of The Courant pays close attention to the future of the city, and has written about our Hartford conversations at Real Art Ways in the past. He was good enough to write on his blog about our upcoming show this Wednesday night, and it actually sparked a pretty interesting discussion about tearing down I-84. Will K. Wilkins, in his last blog post, suggested this, and it prompted response on Rick's blog from transportation expert Toni Gold:

It's unfortunate that the upcoming RAW-NPR event is occurring at exactly the same time on Thursday as the Hub of Hartford workshop about rethinking I-84.

As Will Wilkins correctly points out, we should think about tearing down I-84 (the so-called Aetna Viaduct) where it cuts Hartford in two -- one of the dramatically bad development decisions of the last 40 years. We should be replacing it with new, re-thought and redesigned development based on lively street life, a less auto-centric transportation system, and a fine-grained and arts-based urban economy that capitalizes on Hartford's compact and historic character and attracts and keeps young people and the jobs that follow them.

I hope that both RAW and Where We Live will send some folks to the I-84 workshop (open house 3:30 to 5:00; workshop 6:00 to 8:30 at the Lyceum on Lawrence Street). The combination of us transportation-focused advocates with the arts-focused advocates would be a powerful one.

Luckily, our event is Wednesday night...not Thursday, so I hope people will be able to attend both events.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Creative Ecosystem

More on benchmarking from Will K. Wilkins, Real Art Ways' Executive Director: 

It’s so valuable to look at other places where artists and creativity have been at the center of changing attitudes and evolving dynamic communities.  Project Row Houses in Houston is an interesting example.  I also like what AS220 has done in Providence.  And the Philadelphia Mural Project is of a scale and quality that engages people as participants, as neighbors and visitors. All of those organizations exist in a broader creative context.  

What I mean is that it isn’t just them, by themselves.  There is a supportive infrastructure of funders and creative allies to collaborate with and bounce off.  It isn’t about one big thing. It’s about an ecosystem of organizations, businesses, artists, activists and entrepreneurs.

Hartford is a city that has made some dramatically bad development decisions, ideas that perhaps seemed forward thinking at the time.  What those decisions have in common is a search for a “big bang,” the big project that will be the spark that makes other things happen.  It is past time to think differently about development, to recognize the significance of the local, the already existing, the modest, the creative, the idiosyncratic.

We’ve got assets, and it’s important to appreciate what we’ve got:  

  • A steady influx of young creative people that comes through the area's colleges.  
  • A renowned scene for jazz, replete with committed educators and outstanding young musicians.  
  • A group of visual artists who have worked hard to create a supportive local scene.  
  • Institutions that are committed to the city and its development.  

We have a context that can provide energy and ideas for creative development.

Jane Jacobs said (something like), “New ideas require old buildings.”  Parkville is a good example of what can happen in old buildings, creative enterprises that would be unviable in newer structures.  And look at what the University of Hartford has done with an old car dealership building.

Learning from others, and learning from mistakes, are fundamental.  So is appreciating what we already have.

One idea: tear down I-84 where it slices through Hartford.  Look at how the demolition of elevated highways in San Francisco has resulted in vibrant neighborhoods in what used to be "no man's lands."  

Monday, November 9, 2009

Benchmarking: Braddock, PA

A big part of our upcoming discussion about Locating Creativity in Hartford has got to include "benchmarking." It's something we do a lot on Where We Live - looking to other towns, cities and states for solutions. Almost every idea we might have about spurring a new, creative economy here has been tried somewhere else. And, for any successes we might point to, somebody has failed so that we might learn a big lesson.

Our show about "Brave Thinkers" with The Atlantic Magazine pointed me toward a big benchmark we should be looking at: Braddock, Pennsylvania. Never heard of it? Not surprised.

Braddock is a steel town, about 13 miles from where I grew up in suburban Pittsburgh, and it's been dying for years. The place where Andrew Carnegie put his first steel mill has lost 90 percent of its population, and is barely hanging on. Despite Hartford's status as one of America's poorest cities, there is nothing here that compares with the despair of a place where industry has come, used up its people and spaces, and left them both to rust.

In comes John Fetterman, a mayor and a force for civic change. The Atlantic describes his vision for Braddock this way:

Fetterman, a young and heavily tattooed giant with a public-policy degree from Harvard and a mountain of ambition, wants to save the city by luring artists and small businesses with loft apartments, cheap rent, and other inducements. He imagines Braddock—only a few miles from Pittsburgh—as a community for creative types and eco-friendly businesses, filled with public gardens and culture centers. It’s an utterly idealistic experiment in extreme urban renewal with next to zero financial backing—one that could totally fail, or perhaps serve as a model for other devastated industrial towns.

The blog Design Mind says Braddock hasn't completely turned around, but the signs are hopeful, and here's the lesson for Hartford: Not surprisingly, the turnaround started with art — literally, getting the community together to beautify the city with brightly colored murals, signs, painted houses, etc.

In remaking Braddock, Fetterman's working off his own benchmarks.

Just up the Monongahela River, the steel town of Homestead has remade itself by transforming the site of a former US Steel plant into "The Waterfront" - a kind of pseudo-suburban shopping mall. Not what you'd call classic "new urban" design, but a lively, successful transformation for the blighted site where Pinkertons once battled striking steel workers.

Fetterman looked at "The Waterfront" success, and learned from it. But has not tried to copy it. The change he's bringing to Braddock is more organic, and doesn't rely on big national retail chains.

And, here's a guy who didn't exactly have a "mandate for change." He won his first election by one vote. But he's turning the city on its head by embracing all the residents, young (and increasingly old) and welcoming in outsiders. He's getting press for his work, but he's also seeing where it fits in with similar projects, like the Project Row Houses in Houston, where art is the catalyst, but the people are the engine.

Part of the success? Attitude. The attitude is just as important as the vision. Fetterman says of Braddock, "We're not distressed...we're experimental." That goes a long way toward making people in a city buy your vision...and toward attracting outsiders to invest. But he's quick to point out that much of what he's done isn't because of big money helping hands.

So Braddock, PA serves as a benchmark for Hartford. How far does civic leadership get you? How much is in the grass roots? If the title of Ralph Nader's new book, Only The Super-Rich Can Save Us is right, then will we be waiting for a city savior who's not coming?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"Creativity and ______________"

Steven Dahlberg left a fascinating comment on the previous post. In it, he talks about re-launching a Creativity Networking series. Here's how he describes it:

...a regular time and place for people interested in creativity to find each other and to explore a wide-range of topics related to creativity. The series is intentionally interdisciplinary, and is often described as "Creativity and Fill-in-the-Blank" -- where the "blank" might be anything from food to spirituality to art to business to movement to education to ???

Some of us grew up with Mad Libs.  The basic premise is as follows: There's a story, but a number of the words are missing.  One person knows the story, and he/she calls out the parts of speech of the missing words.  All of the other players, without knowing the context, yell out words to fill those blanks.  At the end, the story, with the blanks filled in, is read out loud.

Unexpected, possibly inappropriate words are inserted into the story, and the meaning of an otherwise unremarkable narrative is changed.  It's often funny, but sometimes, it's even profound.

What words do we expect to see filled in for "Creativity and __________?"  What are the unexpected but valuable choices that, perhaps, we're not considering? Where are the less obvious places to find and encourage creativity? It seems that the Creativity Networking series is one way to figure that out.  Let us know if you hear of (or are working on) others.