Creative Placemaking Needs More Nuanced Approach, Better Evaluation

Creative Placemaking Needs More Nuanced Approach, Better Evaluation

The field of creative placemaking — in which arts, culture, and community-engaged design are integrated into community development strategies targeting low-income neighborhoods — needs to develop more nuanced, holistic, and creative approaches, along with better ways to measure progress, a report from the Kresge Foundation finds. 

Based on an analysis of select grantees of the foundation's Arts & Culture program, the report, Rethinking Neighborhood Change and Tracking Progress (12 pages, PDF), found that there is a need for a more nuanced understanding of urban inequality; of how the arts, culture, and community-engaged design intersect with strategies to expand opportunity; and of how residents in low-income communities do and do not benefit from such efforts. The third in a series of Kresge reports aimed at sharing lessons, identifying challenges, and encouraging discussion in the creative placemaking field, the report also highlights the need to re-think how progress with respect to community change is framed and tracked.

While efforts to address urban inequality have focused on a variety of interrelated, cross-sectoral factors, including housing, employment, education, and health, public policies are typically poorly coordinated and constrained by systemic shortcomings in the institutions and practices designed to address them. To avoid the displacement of marginalized populations as a result of urban reinvestment, the report argues, creative placemaking initiatives must tackle issues at the individual, family, and neighborhood levels as well as holistically, with a focus on needed institutional, structural, and systemic reform. 

The report also notes that traditional measures of impact in the fields of community development and the arts do not necessarily apply to creative placemaking because those initiatives are more focused on process and do not always result in products for conventional presentation, and that the development of appropriate standards of excellence is critical to the further advancement of the creative placemaking field. Despite the lack of conventional quantitative data serving as clear "indicators" of progress, the report argues, studies of social cohesion and agency and thoughtful, disciplined on-the-ground observations can serve as  "indications" that inform policy and program development. 

"The Kresge Foundation's experience with creative placemaking teaches us that developing viable, new ways of framing and capturing community change involves taking risks," the report concludes. "It also requires calibrating expectations about timelines and management methods inherent in blending different perspectives; trying new approaches; and attempting to build the structures and validation systems that support new, smarter and more holistic, ethical, impactful ways of working. Most importantly, it requires leadership, a willingness to reconsider commonly accepted practices; the resolve to try something different, and to accept the process of failing, learning, adapting and trying again."