Maximizing your Places
by Craige Hoover
I came across this photo the other day of a town in Thailand converting a sublime lagoon into a floating movie theatre. How cool is that? It is an excellent example, albeit a costly one, of using existing resources to create a venue for the arts that is unique and memorable.
Most towns don’t have a venue like this picturesque lagoon, but that’s okay because a chief function of the arts is to make the mundane more interesting. Which is why today I thought I would list some spaces that probably do exist in your market and could be temporarily (or semi-permanently) converted into a space for cultural arts and entertainment.
Yes, they seem a little narrow, but they also represent an interesting canvas for an outdoor art exhibit. Line them with the work of local artists, and you have a real art walk. Or, use the concrete as the canvas, and have a chalk art event, inviting local businesses to sponsor squares that are decorated by local artists, school groups, or whomever. Sidewalks, if you are lucky enough to have them, are the key arteries of your neighborhood, and every chance you have to encourage their use is a good thing for your community.
As an Urbanist, I hate them on principle. Streets should be connected for reasons too numerous to count. However, if you have them, then you might as well use them as a means of regaining some connectivity that they so effectively stymie. Block Parties don’t have to be wild and crazy; they can actually be quite civilized and family- friendly. A potluck supper with a little live music, a community art project where everyone contributes, a gastro-event like a wine dinners or pig roasts, and other community building events are nice ways of making the best of poor planning. You just need to have some understanding residents.
Vacant Houses or Storefronts
Nobody likes a vacancy, least of all the owner of the property, which is why they represent some pretty low-hanging fruit for potential event venues. Property owners are generally aching to expose their property as valuable, and hosting a performance, event, or a temporary exhibit is an excellent way to do it. Chances are, organizers can use the space for little or no expense, and that certainly helps the budgeting process, no?
Vacant Land or Lots
The goal for all neighborhoods should be to complete their streetscapes, so if your community has a vacant parcel, a wise choice is to activate it somehow. Often times, there are plans or visions for the property that just haven’t materialized, or maybe it’s just land that just won’t sell. Either way, turning these parcels into community gathering spaces is a good way to increase their value. Maybe it’s a community garden, and maybe it is as simple as picnic tables and a few potted plants. Or perhaps a more ambitious step and turn it into a small outdoor performance space.
Power substations work better than sewage, for olfactory reasons, and there is clearly a safety concern, but neighborhoods are generally well served to make lemonade out of the lemon that is an overly conspicuous utility facility. Murals along the fences and community gardening or tree planting projects are adaptive uses for these aesthetic calamities.