The Globe's got an interesting piece today about the role of creative arts in rejuvenating not only urban centers, but small towns like Hardwick, Vermont.
Clearly, bringing in artists can't by itself resuscitate places struggling with crime, loss of jobs and other woes. But currently, it's tough to attract residents who contribute to the 21st century knowledge economy without "cultural amenities such as art galleries, bookstores, theater spaces, eclectic restaurants, and live music stages," notes the article. "So the towns have set their sights on artists who can create these sorts of amenities. Some have provided financial incentives to the artists; others have fixed up sidewalks and parks to make their downtowns attractive to new galleries, theaters, and museums."
Note the streetscape improvement strategy. It's very tough to get a synergy of creative people breathing life into a declining business district, if that district isn't a physically appealing place to walk around. And that's an important point as Framingham looks to the new Amazing Things Art Center to help revitalize downtown.
Even if the center is successful in drawing people to the area, they're not going to do anything else nearby without an environment that encourages them to do something more than go back to their cars. They won't walk from one destination to another unless it's aesthetically appealing to do so. Gaps in the facade, with buildings set back and parking lots in front; boring building fronts; blank walls; ugly sidewalks; chain link fences; car-centric street design ... all of these make pedestrians less likely to want to go from one destination to another on foot.