Rocco Landesman Closing Keynote at the National Mayors' Summit on City Design
Friday, April 29, 2011; Chicago, IL
I have been asked to make the closing speech and help set the tone for the next 25 years of the Mayors' Institute on City Design. But before I attempt to that, I would like to just add one more voice to the chorus honoring Mayor Daley today.
As is no surprise to anyone who knows me, perhaps the thing I admire most about Mayor Daley is his support for theaters. In fact, I was here this past June, for an event the theater district held to honor Mayor Daley. And this past fall, I was surprised and honored to discover that a quote of mine was being used on all of the Chicago Playbills. [If you will allow me to quote myself for a moment, the Playbill says, "Mayor Daley should be the number one hero to everyone in this country who cares about art because he was a visionary in this field before it was a field."
Mayor Daley has always understood instinctively that there is a profound connection between art and place. Each strengthens the other, and both are made stronger when wrapped in the framework of good design.
Mister Mayor, as President Obama said, you took a great American city and made it into a great world city. Mayor Daley, everyone who cares about Chicago, about cities, about theatre, is in your debt.
So now, for the task at hand: how do each of us in this room take Mayor Daley's legacy back to own communities and have it help inform our own work.
I think, fundamentally, Mayor Daley's prime directive is one of "creative placemaking." Creative placemaking is simply the ways in which cities and towns use the arts, good design, and other creative assets to shape their social, physical, and economic characters. In this day and age, art is one of the few things that has to be consumed in person, in place, and in real time.
Most art is place-based. Think about the typical artist's bio, which begins: "Jane Doe lives and works in…" We believe that place informs arts.
Jason Schupbach recently brought an organization called the Worm Farm Institute to my attention. They are located near Reedsville, Wisconsin, and describe themselves as a sustainable laboratory of art and culture. In talking about art, they talk about the French concept of "terroir," where a wine's grapes reflect the unique geography, geology, and micro-climate for the area in which they were grown. The best art reflects its unique local influences.
Worm Farm also coined the term "cultureshed" to refer to "a geographic region irrigated by streams of local talent and fed by deep pools of human and natural history; an area nourished by what is cultivated locally."
And this is a federal administration that believes in places, that believes in place-based initiatives, that believes we should each be "nourished by what is cultivated locally." There is no way to talk about anything place-based, anything local, without talking about cities and mayors.
This administration has not been about top-down, one-size-fits-all fiats. Instead, there has been a commitment to loosening requirements, while increasing accountability. This means that we can all be dedicated to the same goal -- creating vibrant, sustainable cities that are positioned to take the best advantage of 21st-century opportunities. We all can share that goal, but we do not need to share a single solution.
I worry when I hear civic leaders talk about a desire to become a "world-class city." I worry, not because of the impulse, but because too often civic leaders translate that into action by saying Detroit, for instance, should be more like Berlin.
Yes, we need to look at other models and learn from one another's solutions, but we cannot fall into the trap of thinking that success always looks the same.
Think back to Thom Mayne's presentation yesterday -- he is investigating eight cities, and he is proposing eight different strategies for success. They are informed by a global conversation, but the success is born, and will be measured, locally.
Let me give another example. Back in January, I participated in a convening at Arena Stage in DC -- Arena Stage, which had the good sense recently to present an excellent Chicago production: Steppenwolf's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? I was at Arena to talk about what I fear is the increasing homogenization of theater in this county. I also talked about the supply of and demand for arts organizations in this country at the same event, and those comments got much more attention.
But I want to go back to the homogenization of culture conversation. Why is it happening?
Let me stick with theater: too many artistic directors in this country define success as a combination of three things: 1. attendance (or, "butts in seats," as we producers are fond of calling it); 2. income; and 3. national attention.
The easiest way to achieve those three elements is for theaters to reorient themselves to look toward Broadway. If a theater is producing a show that has been on or is headed to Broadway, they can count on robust ticket sales, some sort of commercial subsidy for producing the show, and perhaps a review in The New York Times.
But what is the result of defining success that way? Too many resident theaters across this country with seasons that are entirely interchangeable. The plays that are being presented bear no relationship to their locality.
Here is where I think the arts -- and urban planners -- and mayors -- need to take a lesson from the slow food movement: local production and local consumption.
Success should not be defined as merely importing creativity, nor as exporting our best talent out of our communities when they make it. We need to think and to define success locally.
And if we do that, then the message to my federal colleagues is that we need to also give local leaders -- cities and towns -- the resources and tools they need to create local success. Along with those resources and tools, we also need to hold our local leaders accountable for succeeding.
The result will be a country that is even more invested in the places where we live. The Mayors' Institute is all about providing local leaders with what they need for success -- and the skills to know and measure that success when it comes. The Mayors' Institute also creates a sense of attachment between people and places.
Yesterday, I mentioned the Soul of the Community report, for which Knight engaged Gallup to poll communities about the factors that create that attachment. The top three findings? Not the economy. Not schools. Not safe streets. Of course, those are all important factors in choosing a place to live. But they are not what make someone love living there.
The three drivers of attachment -- the three things that make someone love their community -- are social offerings, openness, and aesthetics. In other words, the topic that has brought us all together over the past two days: good design.
Good design is powerful, but too often good design lives with smart sophisticated designers, who spend an awful lot of time in rooms with one another, preaching a shared gospel. What the Mayors' Institutes does so well -- and what has happened over these past two days -- is bring together designers with the people who are making this country's design choices: the mayors. We are thinking together, and we are creating a shared understanding and a common language.
I was blown away by the presentations this morning, and the ensuing conversation. Good design was placed squarely in the intersection with the real world. I hope it was clear from this morning's panel that that intersection is one of the hallmarks of this administration.
All of us in the federal government are interested in creating vibrant communities, and we can only succeed -- especially in this economy -- if we get out of our silos and work together. But we need a shared framework and a common language. And that is where you all come in. The design community and our local leaders can and should work directly with the federal government. We need to take our place-based philosophy seriously, and learn from the places in this country. That is how we can bring real, dynamic change.
The intention is ambitious, but the plan is simple. As Thom Mayne said yesterday, the NEA -- through the Mayors' Institute -- can become the fulcrum for community revitalization, for interagency collaboration, and for local success.
This morning, Shaun Donovan and I both talked about the Department of Housing and Urban Development's $100 million in funding for regional planning efforts. And I am proud to say that the NEA's constituents are the centerpieces of many of these grants, from Santa Monica, California, to Greenfield, Massachusetts. From Hollywood, Florida, to Rockford, Illinois. And we have close colleagues in Ron Simms, Shelly Poticha, and Salin.
Ray LaHood, Roy Kienitz, and their colleagues at the Department of Transportation are also going to find ways to work with the NEA. Tom Vilsack at the Department of Agriculture has suggested that their Community Facilities Program -- they do an awful lot of construction in small towns and rural areas -- would be an ideal place for an engagement with the NEA: design, artist access, and workspaces.
DOE built the arts and creativity into the Promise Neighborhoods program -- another pot of $100 million. And most recently, Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, joined me at the NEA for a full-day convening of researchers who are investigating the role of the arts and creativity in human development. We will be releasing a white paper this fall that will chart a new course for additional ways that we can work together.
All of this is only possible because of Melody Barnes, Derek Douglas, and the Domestic Policy Council taking away the barriers to federal agencies working together.
I recently had dinner with our Secretary Sebelius, and I was talking about this work with her. She interrupted me as I was going on and on about our plans, and said, "Wait a minute. I see what you are trying to do. You are trying to embed the arts in every federal agency."
And I said, "Bingo."
The cuckoo bird lays its eggs in other birds' nests, and I like to think of the arts as eggs that I am leaving in nests all over town that hopefully the cabinet secretaries will start caring for as their own.
In the same way, I think that the Mayors' Institute can become the engine for interagency collaboration and place-based engagement. For the past 25 years, the Mayors' Institute has been about helping mayors to conceive of themselves as their cities' chief urban designers. We need to keep doing that, but for the next 25 years, we need to expand its mission.
In addition to sharing the principals of good design with mayors, the Mayors Institute needs to dedicate itself to showing the federal government two things:
It is a big job -- and as Thom Mayne showed us so graphically -- I just lead a little dot. But you need to look no further than this room -- Mayor Daley, Mayor Riley, Mayor Diaz, and all of you -- to see the allies that will allow us to extend our reach. We have a lot to do, but we are up to it. Let's keep making Mayor Riley proud.
Thanks so much, and see you at the next Mayors' Institute!
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