Vibrant Geographies: Mapping the Art Places of Boston

Last Fall, ArtPlace released a set of indicators used for measuring neighborhood vibrancy – an arguably fuzzy concept, but worthy of attention. Couched in a decade-long conversation about the economic role of artists, these indicators allow stakeholders to gauge the impact of their creative investments.

ArtPlace.com's Vibrancy Indicators Source: ArtPlaceAmerica.org

ArtPlace’s Vibrancy Indicators
Source: ArtPlaceAmerica.org

Made with GIS software, the following maps allow us to see the geography of vibrancy in Boston. Some caution: two indicators – cellphone activity and Walkscores – could not be included in the renderings, and not all data was available at the desired geographic resolution. This is not a complete representation of ArtPlace’s metric. Additionally, ArtPlace stresses that the measures are intended to be benchmarks for progress. They are not intended to determine where new investments should go.

Despite these drawbacks, it might be interesting to map these indicators on a large scale. Additionally, the following maps allow us to compare vibrancy between 2000 and 2010.

Source: ArtPlaceAmerica.org; U.S. Census; City of Boston  |  Author: Matt Gardner

Vibrancy in Boston: 2000 (Left) to 2010 (Right)
Source: ArtPlaceAmerica.org; U.S. Census; City of Boston | Author: Matt Gardner

The vibrancy indicators generate some interesting spatial patterns. Over time, it appears that vibrancy is de-centralizing, to an extent, increasing in southern neighborhoods, and decreasing in central-city neighborhoods. Neighborhoods like Dorchester, Roslindale, and Jamaica Plain saw dramatic changes in the past 10 years.

Here’s a map of these changes:

Percent Change in Vibrancy in Boston, 2000-2010 Source: ArtPlaceAmerica.org; U.S. Census; City of Boston  |  Author: Matt Gardner

Percent Change in Vibrancy in Boston, 2000-2010
Source: ArtPlaceAmerica.org; U.S. Census; City of Boston | Author: Matt Gardner

Insofar as the vibrancy metric reflects creative clusters, art places may already be on their way to dispersing throughout the city. In “Cultural Planning and the Creative City,” Ann Markusen argues for “minimal clustering and for dispersion on the grounds that cultural space can play powerful roles in stabilizing and revitalizing neighborhoods and in generating greater cultural participation by diverse groups.” If planned as such, creative placemaking could very well minimize the usual pitfalls of gentrification while cultivating arts communities in the city.