Creative class and renewal

t’s a story that has repeated itself time and time again in cities large and small across the United States over the past couple of decades.

A city’s urban core suffers following the mad rush to the suburbs that characterized the ’70s and ’80s. A dimished downtown experiences significant devaluation and a dearth of residential, with traditional downtown type businesses suffering mightily as well. Only devaluation leads to seriously low rental rates. A clever property owner or developer, or two or three, take advantage of the situation and market inexpensive residential units to young people. Depending on the makeup of the real estate, they market open, industrial looking units as lofts, or lease living spaces directly over raw, open gallery spaces. Young people, particularly aspiring artists, musicians and artisans are attracted to the cost of living and to the idea of a critical mass of fellow creative people moving in. All of a sudden, a 100-year-old part of town is “discovered” and declared the new hot neighborhood.

Services develop to support this new young creative community. A coffee house. A bakery. Eclectic restaurants, with owners able to take a risk because of lease rates. A tech shop. Art supplies. A local booster organization is launched and the art walks begin. Suburban people hear the buzz and elect to visit the new, hot neighborhood, taking in an exhibit, a meal unlike anything they might find in the suburbs. Maybe they pop in a used book store or an honest-to-goodness record store. Maybe they even buy a piece of art.

This residential class is called the creative class and they are responsible for more and better urban renewal than pretty much any government project has achieved. In our society, these people have tremendous social influence; they’re the trend-setters.

Yesterday’s Minot Daily News hailed creative new businesses and repurposed sites. The same issue detailed the creative collective that is the cool and eclectic Studio 7117. There are already examples of some of these things happening downtown.

When downtown advocates support the region’s renewal, too often some reject the idea because downtowns aren’t ever going to be the same as they were in the past, in the Petula Clark world. No one is going to travel to a busy dowtown to buy a pair of gloves. Well, unless they are vintage and from an independent retailer. That time has past, that world long since turned.

But the impact of the creative class on a redeveloping neighborhood cannot be underestimated. It isn’t just that this cycle can work – it is that this has been the only real way it has worked in many years. Advocates for a renewed downtown recognize this. It’s hardly a stretch of the imagination to envision this happening. Really, all one has to do is educate himself about the re-awakening of urban areas all over the country.

Why not Minot?