Keep it Local! The Importance of Place in Arts-Driven Urban Development

Do location factors such as affordable rent, neighborhood aesthetics, and demographic diversity necessarily predict the formation of artistic clusters in the United States? In “Location Patterns of Artistic Clusters: A Metro- and Neighborhood- Level Analysis,” Carl Grodach et al. argue no. Rather than looking for generalizable trends, we should instead be thinking “local.”

Past studies have found that arts industries exist in distinct clusters separate from other industries in economically-secure metro areas. However, Grodach et al. argue that these findings are limited due to their focus on prominent metro areas with pre-established cultural industries. Instead, the authors analyze metro- and neighborhood- level U.S. census data to search for patterns across a wide array of U.S. cities of varying sizes.

The authors find different results at the metro- and neighborhood- levels. Not surprisingly, at the metro-level, the arts tend to be prevalent in urban areas with strong economies. The arts, however, are not as integrated into so-called “innovation districts” (clusters of knowledge-based industries such as media, technology, and finance, in addition to nearby amenities such as cafes) as might be expected.

On the neighborhood level, the authors find the opposite to be true: the arts do not drive neighborhood-level economic growth, but they do cluster around innovation districts. In fact, the overall relationship between the arts and innovation industries is quite strong in spite of industry differences across neighborhoods. This strong relationship is of particular importance because, at present, the arts tend to be underrepresented or completely absent from innovation district policy.

The main takeaway is that every arts cluster is necessarily place-specific. Location patterns of arts clusters cannot be generalized because different cities have different arts industry strengths – film in Los Angeles, for example, or country music in Nashville. Thus, context matters when considering how to utilize the arts to stimulate economic development at both the neighborhood- and metro- levels. However, policymakers need to think differently about neighborhoods than they do about metro areas. While artists seek out dense metro areas with diversity and amenities, they use a different set of criteria when choosing neighborhoods to live and work in, selecting neighborhoods that are attuned to, and beneficial for, their specific artistic industries. In short, the authors argue that local attributes matter when developing arts-driven economic policy at any level.

Grodach, Carl et al. 2014. "The Location Patterns of Artistic Clusters: A Metro- and Neighborhood-Level Analysis ." Urban Studies, 51: 2822-2843.
DOI: 10.1177/0042098013516523

← table of contents