A Studio in Chicago: Experiencing culture-led neighborhood revitalization

September 9, 2017
by Dan M. Rice

(Previously posted here)


Civic Commons Studio #2; photo credit: Brandon Fields


Civic Commons Studio #2 in Chicago showcased the successful work of the Stony Island Arts Bank and how Rebuild FoundationPlace Lab and Theaster Gates are facilitating neighborhood revitalization through community relationships and cultural programming. From the cultural arts and literary collections at the Stony Island Arts Bank to the revitalization through the Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative, thoughtful attention is given to building trust with neighborhood residents to ensure that their voice is reflected and represented in the work of Rebuild Foundation and Place Lab. As we walked through the surrounding neighborhood, our tour guides reminded us that we were guests in the neighborhood and to be respectful of the daily activities.


Tour of Greater Grand Crossing; photo credit: Brandon Fields


Segregation prevents shared identities

The importance of developing civic commons spaces that are equitable and welcoming to all members of society was reinforced by Ryan Enos’ presentation on cultivating and nurturing an inclusive commons. As Enos noted, “Separate, unshared identities cause us to think people are different from us and even to discriminate. Segregation prevents shared identities and integration enables shared identities.”


Ryan Enos presenting at Civic Commons Studio #2; photo credit: Brandon Fields


Finding the nexus between for-profit and non-profit

Through the work of Rebuild Foundation, Place Lab and Theaster Gates, there is an element of integration of for-profit operation into his systems. A great example of the integration of the for-profit operation with the non-profit mission is the Currency Exchange Café, where artist and cultural programs are presented, local residents use as a community gathering place and business men and women enjoy good coffee and conversation. There is a need for our community to examine the nexus between for-profit and non-profit organizations as a potential model for economic mixing and value creation.


Currency Exchange Café; photo credit: Brandon Fields


Experiencing The 606

One of the highlights of the Studio was the tour of The 606 trail, as it travels through the Chicago neighborhoods as an elevated trail. There are several unique design features to The 606 including the development of pocket parks along the trail for urban camping. A blue rubberized surface on the side of the trail was designed for runners, but also serves as a safety feature by encouraging walkers and children to stay on the blue line. One of most valuable lessons that the City of Chicago and Trust for Public Land shared was the importance of including artists in the planning and design of The 606 and ways to include art and landscape design to improve the experience for walkers and bicyclists.


Bike tour of The 606


Inspiration for Akron

Studio #2 inspired the Akron team to reexamine our strategies for socioeconomic mixing and ways to enhance our community relationship building. Pulling from the work in Chicago, we intend to engage artists in our trail development, examine the potential of urban camping programs along the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, and explore the potential for partnerships and collaborations between for-profit and non-profit organizations.


Howard Parr takes in Greater Grand Crossing; photo credit: Brandon Fields


Without opportunities for in-depth study, the processes behind and nuances of the civic commons can be missed. Studio #3 offered a chance to learn from Chicago and bring those lessons home as we explore issues together in this great learning experience.


Tactical advice sessions; photo credit: Brandon Fields


Daniel M. Rice is President & CEO of Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition and the convener of the Akron Civic Commons demonstration.