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City development specialist Carol Coletta visits Fort Wayne

“Creative Solutions: What Makes Cities Great” happens September 7

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


Carol Coletta has been at the forefront of the “creative communities” and city development movement for years. Her latest project is ArtPlace, a collaboration of the nation’s top foundations and the National Endowment for the Arts with the goal of helping to accelerate “creative placemaking” across the U.S.

Prior to ArtPlace, Coletta was president and CEO of CEOs for Cities, a national network of urban leaders building and sustaining the next generation of great American cities. She served as executive director of the Mayors’ Institute on City Design, a partnership of the National Endowment for the Arts, U.S. Conference of Mayors, and American Architectural Foundation.

Coletta was also a Knight Fellow in Community Building at the University of Miami School of Architecture and was named one of the world’s 50 most important urban experts by a leading European think tank.

The Fort Wayne Culutral District is brining Coletta to Fort Wayne for a talk called “Creative Solutions: What Makes Cities Great.” We had a chance to talk to Coletta briefly about her work and career.

Fort Wayne Reader: What was CEO for Cities?

Carol Coletta: It’s a national network of urban leaders who are working to make cities successful. When we talk about successful cities, we mean economically successful, and we know that economic success depends on being a place where talented people want to live and work and so we help urban leaders understand what those things are, and how they could make those things happen in their city.

FWR: Well, what are those things?

Coletta: Let me give you a simple story. It turns out that the percentage of college graduates in your population explains 58% of any city’s success, and that’s success defined as per capita income, which is a common measure of economic success. That’s the way cities and metropolitan regions compare themselves to one another. So, if talent is the “go to” attribute, then you need to know how to attract and retain that talent. We know how to develop talent — you need to educate people — but if all we do is develop talent and then can’t hang on to it… we did the expensive part of the job, but we lost the value of that investment we made in people. Attracting and retaining talent is a function of quality of place and quality of opportunity. If cities want to be successful, they really need to understand that there is a new economic development equation, and they need to get on board with that by building the kinds of places that will indeed attract and stick talent to them, and provide real opportunities.

FWR: What are those kinds of places?

Coletta: It turns out that young people are the most mobile people in our society, and the more education they have, the more mobile they are. So in partticular you need to look at what young people 25-34 years old are doing and what they want from communities. It’s very interesting: there is a four decade trend that has been accelerating each decade that show that young adults, 25-34, are far more likely to live in the CBD — Central Business District — and the neighborhoods in a 3 mile radius than are other Americans. And they are much more likely to live close to the central metro area, and much more likely to value places where things get “mixed up,” so mix of uses, mix of income, the ability to sort of live 24/7.

They’re also, interestingly enough, driving a lot less. They value walkability more. That’s actually not just a young attribute; that’s a home buying attribute. They’re even cycling more now. That’s still a small percentage of the population, but the trend is I think very important. So part of it is building the kinds of places that 25-34 are attracted to and are choosing.

FWR: How does ArtPlace tie into this?

Coletta: It ties in very directly, because if you go back to the theory of change — talented people, quality of place, and quality of opportunity matter — we are working directly on quality of place, and we believe the best proxy for quality of place is vibrancy. We are working specifically to make venture funds available to communities where they are trying to increase vibrancy, where they are putting art and culture at the heart of a portfolio strategy to change the trajectory of a community. So this work that I’m doing at ArtPlace is very much a natural evolution of the work I did for the CEO for Cities.

FWR: At the local level, what kind of a role does government play in building these places and creating this vibrancy? Should they be involved? Should another entity lead the way? I guess what I’m asking is: what approach has been most successful, in your experience?

Coletta: City government has an absolutely fundamental role to play, but certainly not as a “lone wolf.” City government lays the frame work for a community _ for example, can you have mix use? Will there be enough people so there can be vibrancy? What kind of transportation system do you have? What kind of roads do you have? All of those things in so many ways are in fact controlled by the City and other levels of government. What it comes down to is, do you make the things that you want to happen easier to happen, or harder? I think the city can make the things that need to happen easier. I think that’s exactly what a mayor or a city official should be asking himself or herself every day: am I making it easier to do what we know we need to do to make this a successful place?

“Creative Solutions: What Makes Cities Great”
Wednesday, September 7, 3-4 PM
Arts United Center
303 East Main Street

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