Issues of Outcomes and Measurement included implicit criticism of the ArtPlace Creative Placemaking program for not using evaluation outcome indicators that reflected stated program goals, their overarching term for which is “vibrancy.” I was not alone in this critique. Therefore, I was very pleased to see a new post from ArtPlace, Principles of Creative Placemaking. It clarifies many programmatic goals and responds to criticism about the potential downside of creative placemaking as nothing more than gentrification with an arts component. They also published revised vibrancy indicators. Without changing the three-fold focus on people, activity, and value, the program has selected several measures of vibrancy in the people and activity categories that may correlate with the principles elucidated in the recent update. The thorniest issue for me – and apparently for the program – is value. The initial presentation of vibrancy indicators used property values as the measure of creative placemaking. It’s easy to see why an economic outcome measure that potentially displaces current residents (especially renters) met with some criticism. The problem is not yet resolved: “We are still gathering data on appropriate value indicators, which will be added later,” the website states.
The new indicators make use of available data from a range for sources from census block data on population and employment to SpotRank data on cell phone use. I understand the desire to use quantitative data, both for its appearance of truthiness and its cost-effectiveness. However, the last of the newly clarified “principles” is: “convinces people that a place can have a different and better future.” To measure whether or not people are convinced, I suggest asking them. In other words employ qualitative as well as quantitative methods of data gathering to get to what is essentially a qualitative question: is this place better than it was?
So, bravo to Carol Coletta and the folks at Artplace for thinking creatively and responsively about these issues. But, there is still work to do, and some of it will involve people rather than numerical data.
UPDATE: Please see this excellent critique from Roberto Bedoya who reminds us that it truly is not all about the money: Creative Placemaking and the Politics of Belonging and Dis-Belonging
If you’re interested in creative placemaking, please save the dates April 12-13, 2013 for the third biennial Pave Symposium: Entrepreneurship, the Arts, and Creative Placemaking. Full disclosure: Pave is partnering with the ArtPlace-funded Roosevelt Row Cultural District on the symposium’s culminating event – a “feast on the street” in downtown Phoenix.