Activating Place Identity: Programmatic Shifts in the Outdoor, Public Spaces of Downtown Eugene
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This study examines the City of Eugene’s adoption of creative placemaking practices in an effort to positively alter the identity of its Downtown- focusing on the resultant shifts in programming methods, and on the complex role of artistic producers within it’s outdoor, public spaces. Recognizing “place identity” as existing in the combination of both tangible and intangible elements, this project applies a framework of performance theory to analyse the “mechanisms of action” which work to normalize behaviors within physical spaces, thus influencing perceptions of place. Based largely on 15, semi-structured interviews with City programmers and community arts leaders, the findings of this project focus predominantly on the concept of “activations”- an emergent style of arts programming born from the creative placemaking movement, and inspired in Eugene by the 2016 Downtown Assessment conducted by the Project for Public Spaces (PPS). Interviewees differentiated activation programming from event programming, describing the former as being more ambient, ongoing, inclusive, and as creating a greater link between the arts and city infrastructure. Importantly, activations provide more varied modes of engagement, and have the potential to more subtly influence behavior patterns over time. Through these interviews, it became apparent that current city infrastructure struggles to support artistic activities. However, Eugene has adopted strategic partnership models to work towards addressing downtown’s identity crisis, which involve intentional arts programming. Following the work of PPS, the Mayor, City Council, and leaders across various City department pulled together a diverse team of city staff to form the “Downtown Operations Team.” As a result, arts programmers voices have been brought to the table in strategic, downtown revitalization efforts, allowing them to work alongside leaders in areas such as Facilities, Transportation Options, and Planning & Development. Through these collaborations, City programmers and arts leaders have adopted a necessary sensitivity in their work, in order to complement the efforts of social services and public safety providers. The conclusion of this research argues that the City of Eugene’s shift towards activation programming is a move in the right direction. Because activations are more accessible to differing populations, and more conscious to the various entities working within these public spaces, they could be especially useful for addressing the current needs of Downtown Eugene. To sustain this type of programming, however, more flexible public spaces are needed. Additionally, because activations require strong links between artists and city infrastructure, continued strategic collaborations, such as the City’s “Downtown Operations Team”, are a necessity- with City divisions such as Cultural Services and Planning & Development acting as leading intermediaries. Ultimately, these programmatic shifts will help to introduce new levels of sociability to these spaces, and increase Downtown Eugene’s ability to act as a civic heart to the community.