By Kinsee Morlan.

The concept of “creative placemaking” is a fast-growing trend, inside and outside the art world. Essentially, it means engaging the community by using arts, culture and design to quickly and creatively improve a public place.

Two recent acts of creative placemaking haven’t gone so well. A community group made some improvements to a public plaza at the intersection of Euclid and Imperial in Encanto, but did so without proper city permits and have been told they have toremove the planter boxes and other amenities they added.

In Barrio Logan, a Realtor group organized an event where volunteers were tasked with building benches and planter boxes on Logan Avenue. But when it came time to close the area to traffic for an evening to celebrate the upgrades, the people who live and work in the neighborhood protested the event, calling the effort misguided and an intrusion.

Matt D’Arrigo, founder and CEO of youth arts education center A Reason To Survive, or ARTS, said his organization is gearing up to embark on a large creative placemaking effort in National City, where it’s based. He said the two recent community improvement projects seemed well-intended, but believes both failed “due to not engaging in the right process.”

“We’re striving to show the correct process,” he said. “It’s interesting that one project didn’t include the government in the planning and the other didn’t include the community in the planning. You need both working together side by side through the whole process in order for this to work.”

Starting next year, D’Arrigo and ARTS  will launch an effort to create 30 public art projects within three square miles of its National City location over the next three years. D’Arrigo said his careful approach began with the creation of a group of government officials, local business owners, community leaders and others who’ll act in an advisory role helping ARTS navigate possible pitfalls. D’Arrigo said he also sends project leaders to trainings at the Pomegranate Center located outside of Seattle. (The Pomegranate Center has been practicing creative placemaking for decades – before creative placemaking was cool.)

“It’s ambitious, but we are deep in the planning phase and starting to implement some pilot projects, like the back parking lot,” he wrote in an email. “We recently hired a community arts manager to help implement and oversee the projects. We’re hoping to attract more artists and arts orgs to National City, if not on a permanent basis at least on a project basis.”

The ARTS crew will be sprucing up its parking lot this weekend, transforming it into a community gathering place. D’Arrigo said starting with pilot projects will help iron out any kinks before the initiative launches in full next year. When the project does get going, though, he said he thinks folks in National City will embrace it.

“Place and environment is extremely important, they can change peoples’ mood and emotions,” he said. “In National City, people know the city has a perception problem, but they want to change that. And we can help change it through arts and design.”

You’re reading the Culture Report, Voice of San Diego’s weekly collection of the region’s cultural news.

First Come Artists, Then Comes Wild Gentrification?

“There goes the neighborhood.”

That was one of the first comments I got when I shared my story this week on the southeastern San Diego community plan update and the two arts organizations that have been waiting on the plan’s approval before building new arts-friendly projects in the region.

The new blueprint for future development was met with unanimous approval by the City Council Monday, which means the two arts groups, Bread & Salt and Space 4 Art, can move ahead with their respective projects in Logan Heights and Sherman Heights.

But of course, the new zoning rules open up development opportunities not only to arts-friendly projects, but to all kinds of developers that likely have their eyes neighborhoods like Grant Hill, Emerald Hills and Lincoln Park.

The “there goes the neighborhood” sentiment is shared by many who often blame artists for going into under-served urban neighborhoods, prettying things up and making the ‘hoods seem cool, thereby attracting developers who suddenly see potential and build expensive projects that drive up prices and push longtime residents out.

Whether artist-led gentrification is actually more of an urban legend is still up for debate. But the effects of gentrification is something Lara Gates, the city planner I talked to in the story, said was addressed in the updated community plan. Here’s a bit from the plan’s section on gentrification:

“Continued compliance with state and local affordability requirements will help to ensure that affordable housing will continue to represent a portion of overall housing production. By allowing for a variety of housing densities and types, the community plan, in part, facilitates continued affordable housing production in compliance with applicable policies and regulations.”

Gates said she thinks the community’s new blueprint will be more attractive to smaller developers who’ll build “organic” projects that’ll be good fits for the neighborhoods.

“We’ll probably see more of the MSArch RED (Master of Science in Architecture Real Estate Development) developers from Woodbury School of Architecture,” Gates said. “The Mike Burnetts and Lloyd Russells of the world will be more willing and interested because it will be more streamlined and easier and quicker to develop property there now.”

Yellow Is the New Blue

Artist David White teaches classes at Woodbury School of Architecture in Barrio Logan and NewSchool of Architecture and Design in the East Village. He often walks to work, so he’s familiar with both neighborhoods and the homeless populations that live there.

As the towering Pinnacle on the Park apartment building was being constructed, he started noticing more and more little yellow “Impounded Property” signs warning homeless people that their belongings would be confiscated if they weren’t removed from the area. The phenomenon was documented by the U-T in a story that quoted folks who said the increased security around the Pinnacle building wascausing the homeless population to migrate east, to Barrio Logan and Logan Heights.

White was teaching color theory at the time, so he started thinking about the color yellow. It’s used to get attention.

The Pinnacle building itself includes bright yellow elements that have been grabbing people’s attention – even if it isn’t always positive (some folks think the yellow color looks like some kind of construction material that makes the building look perpetually unfinished).

A few months ago, White decided to start handing yellow tarps out to homeless people. Most folks are familiar with the blue tarps used as makeshift shelter and to help keep homeless people’s belongings dry, but he thought yellow tarps would awaken people’s senses to the existence of San Diego’s homeless population. He said he’s handed out over 100 tarps so far and he’s been documenting the movement of the tarps by going out and scouting with his camera.

“When you called me just now, I was in the middle of photographing some,” he said last week. “I’m over at 10th and Commercial. … At this point, the encampment that was immediately adjacent to Pinnacle is completely broken up. And I’ve talked to people as far away as Golden Hill who are saying homeless people are being pushed into their neighborhood. It’s the effect of the ‘Pinnacle Bubble’ that was brought up in a recent article.”

White’s “TARP Reform” project, which includes photos of the yellow tarps, images of the yellow impounded property signs and a video, is on view in “Common Space,” an exhibition at the City College art gallery through Dec. 17. The show includes works by White, Lynn Susholtz, David Krimmel and Omar Pimienta that address local issues of a global scope.

“I’m trying to draw attention to the dynamics of what’s happening in that neighborhood,” White said. “The project makes the invisible more visible.”

The Fate of Little Italy’s Beloved Tuna Mural

A 20-by-20-foot mural by artist Catherine Becker celebrating the tuna and sardine industry of Little Italy now sits in storage, damaged beyond repair. The mural went up in 2006 at the southbound ramp to I-5 at Grape and State streets and was one of first public art projects in Little Italy.

“It was originally painted on plywood,” said Christopher Gomez, district manager of the Little Italy Association, which heads up revitalization and beautification efforts in the neighborhood. “We should have used a plastic board that holds up better over time.”

Gomez said the mural was rotting and disintegrating, so they took it down and put it in storage, where it’ll remain indefinitely. Becker has since passed away, so rather than restore the piece, the association’s begun plans to replace it.

“We realized that’s a main focal point for our community as people leave Little Italy or the airport,” he said.

A collaborative mural piece by students at Washington Elementary School is in the works, but now Gomez said they need funds to help pay for it. The Little Italy Association will host a fundraising art show opening Saturday and on view through the end of December featuring the works of San Diego artist Randy Crawford. Half the money raised through art sales will pay for the new mural and other arts and culture efforts in Little Italy.

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Originally posted at Voice of San Diego.