When you walk past a vacant house, you are likely to speed your steps and pass it quickly. Vacant properties, especially those that are long vacant, can feel unsettling and unsafe. They detract from the appearance of the neighborhood, can attract crime and, as they deteriorate, lead to unsafe conditions and bring down surrounding property values. They also cost municipalities significant amounts of lost tax revenue and code enforcement and public safety headaches. When these properties are present in large concentrations, as has happened in many American cities and towns in the wake of the Great Recession and foreclosure crisis, it can have a staggering effect on the surrounding neighborhood.
But what would you think if you saw an abandoned house painted entirely gold? Or went to an art show in the old mill building down the block? What if the house on the corner, where no one had lived for years, suddenly bore a sign telling you all about its history? You would probably look at all of these properties in a new way, as places, rather than as gaps – or worse – in the fabric of the community. These examples are not hypotheticals. They are real projects that artists, residents, and the public sector have undertaken in and around vacant spaces in their communities. What they have in common is that their creators used arts and culture to bring new life to vacant and abandoned properties.
This report begins with a definition of “creative placemaking” and explores the use of arts and culture strategies on vacant properties. It then takes a closer look at essential elements of creative placemaking and its role in revitalizing distressed communities, including outcomes around property investment and community building. Finally, the report discusses key takeaways and lessons learned from communities that engage in this work. The Center for Community Progress visited four communities - including Macon, Georgia - in the course of researching this report and drew on the information from these visits for most of the analysis.