Alexandra Alter of the WSJ takes a look at the activities of civic entrepreneurs and artists pushing for rebirth in parts of the industrial Midwest. There are many interesting bits in the piece, here are a few:
Last month, artists Michael Di Liberto and Sunia Boneham moved into a two-story, three-bedroom house in Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood, where about 220 homes out of 5,000 sit vacant and boarded up. They lined their walls with Ms. Boneham’s large, neon-hued canvases, turned a spare bedroom into a graphic-design studio and made the attic a rehearsal space for their band, Arte Povera.
The couple used to live in New York, but they were drawn to Cleveland by cheap rent and the creative possibilities of a city in transition. “It seemed real alive and cool,” said Mr. Di Liberto.
Clearly Mr. Di Liberto is not reading economic data as a sign of life.
“Artists have become the occupiers of last resort,” said Robert McNulty, president of Partners for Livable Communities, a Washington-based nonprofit organization. “The worse things get, the more creative you have to become.”
Artists and architects are buying foreclosed homes in Detroit for as little as $100. In St. Louis, artists are moving into vacant retail spaces in a shopping mall, turning stores that stood empty for more than a year into studios and event spaces for rents of $100 a month. Artspace Projects Inc., a national nonprofit development corporation, plans to create 35 live/work spaces for artists on vacant property in Hamilton, Ohio, after converting an empty car factory and an adjacent lot in Buffalo, N.Y., into 60 artists’ lofts last year.
Cleveland is emerging as a testing ground for the strategy. With the collapse of the manufacturing industry, the city’s population has plummeted to around 430,000 residents today from nearly a million in 1950. A wave of home foreclosures has accelerated the slide. The Cuyahoga County treasurer estimates that 15,000 homes sit vacant — roughly one in 10. City officials tore down 1,000 homes last year, and more than 12,000 buildings await demolition.
In neighborhoods pocked by vacancies, artists have started filling the void. Last November, Katherine Chilcote, a local painter, bought a boarded-up, bank-owned house for $5,000 in Cleveland’s Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood, where one in four family homes has gone into foreclosure in the last three years. Thieves had stolen the doors, punched out windows and ripped out all the pipes, sinks and electrical wiring. Eight cats had moved in.
The 29-year-old artist and four friends spent months ripping up moldy carpet, laying down new tiles and hardwood floors, repairing walls and stripping peeling paint. She bought the empty, weed-filled lot next door for $500. She plans to build a sculpture garden there, with large, whimsical mobiles that twist in the breeze. She’s applying for grant money from the Cleveland Foundation to turn four more vacant houses in the neighborhood into artist residences and studios.
It will be interesting to see how this all turns out for Cleveland and others, especially with the great unknowns surrounding the auto industry and the recent “glimmers of hope” that some see in the economy.
BTW, don’t forget about Richard and Charlotta’s paper “There Goes the Neighborhood.” It is an interesting piece that puts some data to this phenomenon of urban pioneers.