Many leaders are experimenting with different ways to measure the performance of creative placemaking practices and while every community and process will be different, there is no gold standard. This is the best representation of what we know now, but our understanding continues to evolve. We’re still learning. Here are a few basic pieces of guidance as you attempt to measure the effects and outcomes of your efforts.
The social and community-building benefits of creative placemaking can be as much or more about the processes as the end product. So when you’re assessing positive outcomes, don’t forget to think about who and how many people were involved, the partnerships that were built and any positive developments that might eventually come out of those partnerships.
Assess quality as well as quantity
Measurable objectives are important, but they are not the only indicators of success, especially for other benefits you may want to capture such as improved partnerships and building pride of place. Sometimes those outcomes are turned into dollars and cents, in term of neighborhood revitalization and improved economic activity. But a richer picture goes beyond numerical data to quotes, testimonials and anecdotes.
Other indicators of success could be observable phenomena that may or not be quantifiable. For example, a well-designed station area that is kept active with both programmed and spontaneous activity could lead to women feeling safer in the area at night. A beautiful street or plaza with good lighting and things to see could become a place where couples regularly come for a romantic stroll. When visitors make it a point to come see the results of your efforts they may be more likely to return or send others.
These outcomes may help revive neighborhoods, open opportunities and affect individual investment decisions. Some of these effects can be captured through numerical measurement, while others will have to be documented in different ways.
Developing a baseline: NEA Arts and livability indicators
The National Endowment of the Arts has developed indicators to evaluate the success of its OurTown grants (http://arts.gov/grants-organizations/our-town/introduction) for creative placemaking through its Mayors Institute on City Design. The NEA recommends using indicators for which data are available nationally to help communities better understand and communicate the value of their creative placemaking efforts. The indicators cover four topic areas:
- Attachment to community: Seven measures such as length of residence and election turnout.
- Quality of life: Six measures such as median commute time and violent crime rates.
- Arts and cultural activity: Five measures such as arts and cultural nonprofits per capita and the earnings from arts and entertainment.
- Economic conditions: Five measures such as income diversity and median household income.
While the NEA chooses indicators that can show comparisons “before” and “after” the investment, it does not rely on those data points alone. Instead, the NEA conducts site visits consisting of a series of small group discussions to gather baseline data on the community and the region where a creative placemaking project is taking place in order to measure results.1 For more information, view the full report (pdf) and the more recent arts data profile on these indicators.,
ArtPlace America’s vibrancy indicators
There is not a standard way of evaluating a creative placemaking approach, since it will be unique to you. ArtPlace America notes, “we simply say it is important to know when you can stop doing something, cross it off your list, and move on to the next thing.” In order to develop a baseline snapshot to measure impacts in communities where they are making grants, ArtPlace America has previously developed a set of “vibrancy indicators.” While ArtPlace has recently simplified its evaluation methodology, this approach offers some ideas that may help in developing your own. The ArtPlace vibrancy indicators included:
- Employment rate
- Number of creative industry jobs: Information, media, arts and creative endeavors
- Walkability: Many destinations within walking distance
- Cell phone activity: High levels of activity on nights and weekends and in places people congregate away from home and outside of regular 9 to 5 business hours
- Number of mixed use blocks
- Number of jobs in the community
- Population density: Higher concentrations of people versus being thinly spread out
- Percentage of independent businesses: Locally owned, independent businesses (more is better)
- Number of indicator businesses: Businesses that represent destinations of choice for cultural, recreational, consumption or social activity
- Percentage of workers in creative occupations: Higher than average concentrations of residents who are employed in the arts, writing, performing and other similar occupations
Borrowing from academia: measuring the social impacts of arts and culture
University of Pennsylvania Professor Mark Stern has led groundbreaking research demonstrating how the arts have an impact on communities in powerful ways.
For example, he has proven that low-income neighborhoods with more cultural assets offer greater access to economic opportunity than those with fewer cultural assets, all other variables being equal. Controlling for demographic, housing, health, social, environmental and educational measures, he found that only direct economic investment is a stronger benefit.
In “Measuring the Outcomes of Creative Placemaking,” Stern shows how to measure a region’s cultural assets to understand how investing in arts and culture changes the neighborhoods where they occur, and how those differences have ripple effects for the surrounding city and region. Stern’s approach is data-intensive, including a “multi-dimensional definition of social well-being” with 13 sub-indexes. While smaller jurisdictions might have a hard time replicating Stern’s methodology, a well-resourced metropolitan planning organization (MPO) might consider developing a similar index, potentially in partnership with an academic or other research institution.
Learn more on the Social Impact of the Arts Project website: http://impact.sp2.upenn.edu/siap.
Quantifying results with the triple bottom line
Some urban planners use the concept of a “triple bottom line” of social, environmental and economic benefits, each of which can be measured and weighted as priorities and politics dictate. The creative placemaking approach has a similarly multi-pronged gold standard of physical, economic and social benefits. It goes like this: The meaningful incorporation of arts and culture into redevelopment can physically create appealing urban spaces that economically attract increased investment and socially build trust and connectedness: Physical appeal, economic investment, social trust.
The three are interrelated; social cohesion is a powerful economic stabilizer, appealing urban spaces are more likely to attract investment, and investments influence the options that people have and how they interact with one another.
Each factor of the “triple bottom line” can be assessed individually using indicators that align whatever goals your community sets for a project or projects. The level of detail that you choose to go into will depend upon your priorities, the benefits that you’re seeking to achieve and the story you wish to tell. While most projects will deliver stronger benefits in one area than another, most large funders encourage the best achievable combination of all three.
Measurement in practice
For a concrete example, read this additional short story about the Night Market events held in the Little Mekong District of St. Paul, MN, adjacent to the Green Line’s Western Avenue Station.
Choose your own adventure: small-scale and customized strategies
In this table are some other ideas and resources for evaluating outcomes within the goals of creative placemaking: (1) create appealing urban spaces that (2) attract increased investment while (3) building social capital and trust.
- More on this process from NEA for measuring and gathering baseline data for projects can be found here: http://arts.gov/exploring-our-town/project-process/measuring-project-results