Friday, October 21, 2011

What do they (the creatives) really want?

What is that big armadillo-like edifice, and will it really attract the creative class to Kansas City, Mo.? Philip Langdon of the New Urban Network poses that question in his article, "Injecting spontaneity into urban development."

He writes: "I peered at The Atlantic’s photo of what Kansas City is building to lure the creatives, and thought for a moment I was viewing a gigantic armadillo. Oops, my mistake. The picture isn’t of an armadillo inflated to enormous size (though it certain looks like one). It’s the Kauffman Center, a $326 million performing arts facility [designed by architect Moshe Safdie] — purportedly a means for enticing talented young people to Missouri’s second-largest metropolis.

"Excuse me, but aren’t gigantic performing arts centers the sort of thing that cities were erecting thirty years ago? My understanding of the Richard Florida take on urban development is that bright young workers are less interested in vast cultural and entertainment institutions than in having access to stimulating everyday locales — places they can walk to from their workplaces or their homes."

I hope that message from Langdon and others can get more traction in Charlotte, where building big cultural institutions draws plenty of support and attention, (and don't get me wrong; I love the new Mint and Bechtler museums and Gantt Center uptown) but preserving "everyday locales" has gotten short shrift. The remaining walkable, everyday locales (Plaza-Central district, NoDa, Elizabeth, a few parts of Dilworth and by some measures the Q2P2 corner) have survived mostly out of neglect by large corporations and officialdom combined with strong neighborhood support.

The city even, for a time, had a plan to raze almost all the retail spots in the gentrifying Belmont neighborhood and build a suburban-style strip shopping center to replace the stores. Thank heavens that plan got scrapped in 2007 after then-Mayor Pat McCrory vetoed a 10-1 council vote. The next week the council voted 10-1 to study the proposal. (It had arisen without going through the council's committee system.) It's those small, human-scale retail spots that, when fixed up and cleaned up, become the spaces that neighborhood residents walk to - what Langdon termed "stimulating everyday locales." This city needs more of them.

And finally, a short word of thanks that our new arts campus uptown doesn't look like the Michelin Man mated with an armadillo. I don't know that anyone has completely fathomed what it takes to attract young artistic and creative residents. Maybe, in fact, they are looking for large Dasypus novemcinctus. But somehow I doubt it.


Anonymous said...

The one and only comment to Philip Langdon's blog entry:
"Yeah, you clearly know nothing about the Kauffman PAC."

Among other things, he failed to emphasize (almost as if he did not actually know) that the facility was built with very little taxpayer money. The City did not build the Performing Arts Center to attract these coveted creative class people. The City built a garage to support the PAC that was otherwise being built off of private donations. The fact that K.C.'s arts supporters could pass the hat and raise that much money to build an such an iconic facility is quite impressive. As a member of Charlotte's "creative class", I am a little bit jealous.

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