This past weeks community meet-up was very impactful for all who attended.
Middle Main has been hosting community meetings since January of this year, and it is clear that they are gaining some traction. There are about a dozen community members who make a point to attend almost every meeting, and there is always representation from various community organizations. This week I was particularly excited to see students from Vassar College join the meeting, as well as Councilman Tracy Hermann.
Tracy Hermann opened the meeting with a very intriguing presentation about a town that is near to his home and that has recently become near to his heart, Paducah, Kentucky. During a recent family reunion in Kentucky, Tracy took the opportunity to travel to Paducah after hearing about the widespread attention that it received for using the arts as a tool for community and economic repair.
Once reaped the benefits from their geographic locations along major waterways, and faced a major downturn with the creation of interstate highways.
Development of major commercial spaces outside the city’s center lead to vacancies in the downtown area.
Vacancies in the downtown area lead to increased crime and drug presence.
Reacting to these issues, a small group of community members decided to take it upon themselves to affect change for their community. They recognized the presence of arts organizations was a major asset of Paducah that they could apply to the Main Street Four Step Approach of Organization, Promotion, Design, and Restructuring.
They partnered with the city and surrounding arts and historical organizations and implemented programs including an Artist Relocation Program, a Revitalization Program, and a Streetscape program, implementing trees and murals into their street presence.
The fruits of their collaboration were a net gain of 234 new businesses and 1,000 employment opportunities.
After 15 years of vacancy and blight, the downtown district is on a continuous rise.
It is case studies like these that offer us insights about how it can be done and ideas about how we can structure our work to best fit our city and its people.
Below are some interesting links about the programs set up by the community members of Paducah as well as the presentation that was given by Tracy Hermann at the Wednesday Meet-Up, where much of the above information was drawn from. We hope these conversations will be continued through the next Meet-Up on October 29th!
http://www.tracyhermannforward8.com/?cat=5 (See Paducah: Activating Arts & Culture Post)