Juanita Hardy’s résumé is the perfect blend of art and business. As the new senior visiting fellow in creative placemaking at ULI, she brings more than 40 years of experience in the corporate world as a senior manager and leader at IBM and as an executive business coach for public and private sector clients.
Hardy is also an avid collector and patron of the arts and a seasoned arts administrator. From 2013 to 2015, she served as the executive director of CulturalDC, a Washington, D.C.–based nonprofit group that provides affordable space for artists and art organizations at its two locations and works in partnership with real estate developers, property owners, and government leaders to create spaces on real estate development projects aimed at fostering economically and culturally vibrant neighborhoods. Hardy worked closely with local developers to guide the implementation of the Monroe Street Market Arts Walk, which offers 27 affordable artist studios that are a part of a $250 million mixed-use residential/retail project in the Brookland neighborhood of the District of Columbia.
Hardy’s role at ULI will be to assess and integrate creative placemaking across the Institute’s program areas. Her work is being supported by a $250,000 grant awarded to ULI by the Kresge Foundation. Hardy’s goal is to develop tools, identify best practices, and share case studies that can be broadly shared with members through ULI’s district and product council networks. She recently spoke with ULI Connect about creative placemaking and her goals over the nine-month fellowship period.
Juanita, it’s great to have you at ULI. Creative placemaking is one of those terms that people may or may not be familiar with. How would you define it?
It’s a question being asked a lot these days, with cities and communities trying to find new ways to redevelop blighted or underperforming neighborhoods and spark economic activity in more inclusive ways. Certainly, the idea of placemaking isn’t a new concept to ULI members and, in fact, creative placemaking is something that quite a few members have already incorporated into their projects without perhaps calling it by this name.
It is important to note that the project is focused on using creative placemaking in communities in need of revitalization. In this context, creative placemaking has three distinguishing features. The first is that arts and culture are key components of a redevelopment effort, whether a single building or a large neighborhood revitalization project. The place that you are creating is arts- and culture-driven. The second feature is that artists—visual artists, performing artists, musicians, writers, poets, and even chefs or food producers—are involved in creative thinking about the project and engaging residents. This, of course, is in addition to the architects, designers, and other creative fields within land use and real estate. Finally, creative placemaking is noted for its inclusive approach and emphasis on equity. Any creative placemaking project in an area targeted for redevelopment should involve all the stakeholders—particularly existing residents and businesses—so that the redevelopment plan reflects the culture of the people who live and work there and helps to ensure that displacement does not occur.
Can you provide an example of what you consider a successful creative placemaking initiative?
The East Macon Arts Village in the Mill Hill neighborhood of Macon, Georgia, is a good example. This is a former community of mill workers that fell on hard times after mills next to the Bibb Manufacturing Company closed. Community leaders asked how they could invigorate the place. They performed an inventory of cultural assets and involved residents from the Fort Hawkins neighborhood and learned that a lot of residents loved to cook. Part of what is coming to the area is a culinary school that taps into skills the residents bring to the table. Led by the Macon Arts Alliance, this project is also turning several vacant mill properties into arts-focused places, including a dilapidated auditorium that was part of Bibb Manufacturing that will become a community arts center.
How can cities tie creative placemaking to their broader economic development goals?
Most often, revitalizing a neighborhood begins in the creative realm. Artists go into a blighted community and start setting up studios or galleries. That attracts other businesses, restaurants, retail, and other amenities. Suddenly, you have a thriving, exciting area where the economics have greatly improved—where real estate premiums are increasing, greater tax revenue from commercial activity is supporting city services, and you have an alignment between private sector development and public sector goals. Unfortunately, the downside of success means that the artists who were the neighborhood pioneers may not be able to afford to stay once the real estate market heats up. So, creative placemaking should be able to improve the economics for everyone, but other interventions are needed, like affordable or workforce housing through inclusionary zoning, preservation, or other means.
Bring us up to speed on your project at ULI, which you are undertaking as part of the Building Healthy Places Initiative.
We would say that arts and cultural assets need to be part of building a healthy place. Arts and culture can be a catalyst when it comes to broader health-oriented goals, like improving access to bike and walking trails, fresh food and farmers markets, and greater connectivity to surrounding neighborhoods and amenities.
Right now, the project is in the discovery phase. I am doing both an internal and external scan of creative placemaking past activities and current activities that are underway among ULI members as well as in the broader development community. I’m conducting both one-on-one interviews and focus groups with members to find out the level of creative placemaking awareness and activity. We will also be sending out a member survey to gauge these. The third phase of my work will be disseminating and communicating my findings through a report that curates and recommends best practices, approaches, and “how-to’s” for creative placemaking. Our goal is to distribute and present this document at district councils to spur a dialogue with members on how creative placemaking can help them achieve their goals.