Saving Capitol Hill From Itself?
Contemplating a Capitol Hill Arts District.
File this one under Pedestrian Chronicles or PubliCalendar: There's a meeting tomorrow night at the Oddfellows building off Broadway on Pine Street to discuss creating an arts district on Capitol Hill.
Identifying an area as an arts district means the city would offer incentives to developers to preserve and create arts spaces.
With property values skyrocketing on Capitol Hill, there's concern that the arts organizations, often nonprofits, that define the neighborhood—art galleries, theaters, art schools, indie movie houses—and the artists who live in the area, will be priced out.
According to a map distributed by Capitol Hill Housing, the nonprofit that's hosting tomorrow night's event, Capitol Hill has 28 dedicated arts spaces. But as the group notes, citywide, "five arts organizations rent for every one that owns their home."Capitol Hill is actually trying to save itself from its own success (or gentrification), not revitalize itself.
In addition to giving an incentive to developers to support the arts, arts districts can create shared marketing, neighborhood promo signage, and wayfinding.
Tuesday night's meeting will feature a talk from Greg Esser of Phoenix, Arizon's Roosevelt Row Arts District, a vibrant neighborhood in Phoenix that sounds a lot like Capitol Hill:
Roosevelt Row Arts District (RoRo) is a walkable, creative district in the urban core of downtown Phoenix that is nationally known for its arts and cultural events, award-winning restaurants, galleries, boutiques and live music. RoRo is fostering an urban renewal with rehabilitated bungalows and new infill projects.
The Arts District connects downtown Phoenix to historic neighborhoods including Garfield, Evans Churchill, F.Q. Story, Willo, Roosevelt, Historic Roosevelt and Grand Avenue. RoRo begins at 7th Avenue and extends east to 16th Street. On the north side it begins at Interstate 10 and extends south to Fillmore Street.
However, I noticed a catch in the comparison: RoRo was a drugged-out, boarded-up neighborhood in the 1970s through the '90s; their arts district plan was an emergency resuscitation move.
Listen to this bit of history from the district's website:
In the 1970s, parts of the area were re-zoned as a high-rise incentive district leading to land speculation and a decline of the neighborhood that lasted until the late 1990s.
The blighted area was attractive to artists because the boarded-up buildings and former crack houses were affordable for studio and gallery space. The arts were a major factor in the revitalization of the area and crime rates plummetted as more people began to venture into the area to experience the cultural vibrancy.
The corridor is re-emerging as one of the most dynamic areas in downtown Phoenix and a valued cultural resource in the metropolitan region and the state.
Certainly, Capitol Hill was grungy and grimy in its '80s and '90s punk rock days, but it is the very opposite of a neighborhood in decline today.
It strikes me that Capitol Hill is actually trying to save itself from its own success (or gentrification), not revitalize itself—which is a very different mission; it's preservation as opposed to resuscitation.That's certainly a worthy mission for Capitol Hill. But it might be a trickier one.
Seattle City Council member Nick Licata (longtime chair of the council's arts committee) and Matthew Richter from the city's office of the arts, will both be speaking at the meeting. I'm curious to hear their approach.