It's a story we've all heard before: Artists move into the cheap end of town, start doing ... whatever it is artists do, and pretty soon developers, city officials and moneyed trophy wives all want a piece of the scene. This "gentrification," as it's known in places like Asheville and Charleston, doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, the trend helps revitalize cities around the country.
NX35 kicked off yesterday afternoon tackling this topic with a presentation called "Indie Rock and Redevelopment" from UNT alum (and now research associate in economic development research) Michael Seman, who says that, if cities want to attract members of the "creative class", they need to re-prioritize. "You're better off fostering the indie rock scene than building another business park,"
says Seman Seman explained, quoting Richard Florida's work.
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Seman, who also performs around town with his wife Jennifer in the the band Shiny Around The Edges, uses the case of Omaha to suggest city officials would do better to work with their artists rather than against them. For example: Lowering or waiving fees to hold public shows and festivals, and going lax on enforcing sound ordinances during those events. In Omaha, the city took a more proactive approach and came to the artists to help them achieve their goals, "holding their hands" through legal red tape and offering public financing.
Given that Denton's scene has already taken root, the city can easily capitalize on it. With the A-Train project going ahead, Seman says Denton is poised to become the Deep Ellum of DFW.
Ah, but with such a rosie outlook, isn't it only a matter of time before squares with money come in and price out everyone who made the scene what it is? Not necessarily, says Seman. Cities can achieve balance by keeping living costs under control and valuing the scene for more than its price per acre.
Considering the unmet goals of corporate projects like Victory Park, there's at least one thing Big D can learn from Little D: You can't bring in people with money until you can make then feel cool when they show up.