In New England, a city revival built on creativity
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That is not cause for complacency, though, says Lee Urban, director of the city's Planning and Development Department. Six months ago he started a task force to brainstorm ways to foster the city's creative economy. Among Portland's plans are a music festival next fall and continued efforts to create affordable studio and living space for artists, and to foster ties between the private and public sectors.Skip to next paragraph
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The outmigration of young people in parts of New England is in large part tied to high housing prices in the region and job opportunities elsewhere. In the Northeast, like parts of California, some price appreciations have far outstripped income growth, says Nicolas Retsinas, director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.
"All [New England states] are losing their young and restless population," says William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution in Washington. He notes that Massachusetts has seen dramatic outmigration since 2000. Meanwhile Sun Belt cities like Atlanta and Raleigh, N.C., have boomed.
Others say that perhaps the deep Puritan heritage permeating much of New England is another reason so many youth have left.
"New England has to get a little more funky," says Robert Leaver, CEO of New Commons, an organizational consulting group in Providence working on the city's creative economy initiatives.
The notion of the "creative class" emerged in 2002 when Prof. Richard Florida of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh said tolerance, talent, and technology were the keys to a city's progress. His definition of the "creative class" has been dismissed by some academics, says Galligan, but urban planners in many small cities - especially in university towns facing "brain drain" when recent graduates leave - have jumped on the theory.
But not everyone is dubbing these efforts a success. Housing prices have soared in many towns, traffic has become more congested, and the character is different.
"Everything's changing," said Celia Ostrowski, a senior in Portland who was taking a walk across from the old Porteous department store, now the home of Maine College of Art. She loves the vibrancy of the young community, but she also worries about paying her rent. "I don't know what's going to happen to us."
This so-called "SoHo effect" - when old-timers are pushed out and prices skyrocket so much that not even artists can afford to live in the community - has been addressed by many city leaders.
Mr. Weiss says Pawtucket has been careful to attract residents who will make a commitment to the community and be able to afford their work spaces and homes.
"We want [newcomers] to be long-term residents of the community," he says.
Jennifer Hutchins, a graduate student at the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, helped research the report and recommendations that the governor accepted this fall. They found that in 2002, Maine's creative economy - if defined as arts, culture, and technology - employed 10 percent of the workforce.
"One of the goals of the report was to provide a model by which other rural states could apply what we found," she says.
Still, others have been wary of the very notion that creativity will be able to turn a town's economic tide, says Mr. Leaver of Providence. "A lot of people still believe that Providence's future is in services or financial services," he says.
He disagrees. He says the days of economic buoyancy by way of a big bank relocating to town are over.
And for as much as Puritan traditions may have clamped down eccentricity in some pockets, he draws on the spirit of "pulling yourself up by the bootstraps" in growing Providence's creative class. These days, municipal success is a matter of "growing your own," he says, "and strengthening what you've got."