As outlined extensively by the 2020 Vision Initiative and BocaWatch, the Boca 2020 Vision is about using arts, culture, parks, and public space as tools to promote economic development, community interaction, and a sense of place. Using a diverse coalition of local individuals and organizations, one of the primary goals of the 2020 Vision is to utilize some of Boca’s untapped waterfront and recreational potential in ways that benefit the local community and economy. In this three part series, I will outline some of the hypotheticals proposed by the 2020 Vision, present evidence to affirm and challenge them, and draw conclusions/recommendations based on those discussions.

To be clear, this series is not an endorsement of any finalized project but an invitation to contribute to and help grow the 2020 Vision into something Boca can be proud of. In part one, I will assess the basic argument that arts and culture can drive economic growth. In part two, I review the benefits and challenges of utilizing our parks and waterfront areas, and make an argument for the importance of public space. Finally, in part three, I discuss the most promising (albeit challenging) part of realizing the 2020 Vision, which is using a diverse, resident driven coalition to ensure equitable project outcomes that offer something for all of Boca’s residents and neighbors.  (Parts 2 and 3 are scheduled to publish in BocaWatch on December 12 and 19 respectively).

At the broadest level, an implicit argument made by the 2020 Vision is that arts, culture, parks, and recreation can be used to drive economic growth and development. While a successful economy is certainly achievable using those means, I think it is important to begin by immediately conceding that success is dependent on the careful implementation of policy and design, attention to local context, and how one defines it. Additionally, as the researchers cited immediately below point out, the specific causal links between arts, culture, and economic development are still unclear. Simply put, hypothetical ideals must be balanced with local realities, and we must be careful not to generalize from any one study or real-world success story.

Those concessions aside, there is ample evidence, in both academic literature and the real world, to show that art and culture are viable economic drivers. For example, in their fairly comprehensive review of arts and culture in regional planning Markusen and Gadwa (2010) note that evidence from a diverse array of disciplines has shown that (1):

  • Cultural industries help diversify the economic base.
  • Cultural workers, with high levels of self-employment and considerable human capital, contribute to non-cultural industries.
  • The presence of cultural offerings and artists attracts other firms and high human capital residents.
  • Arts and culture physical investments help revitalize neighborhoods and other districts.
  • Artists and creative workers themselves can produce similar effects.

The Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, a part of the Florida Department of State, teamed up with Americans For The Arts to conduct an incredibly extensive study of the nonprofit arts and culture industry’s impact on the economy (2). Broadly, the report found that in Florida, such industries, which make up nearly 6% of all industry establishments in the state, generate $4.68billion in economic activity, over 130,000 jobs, and nearly half a billion dollars in tax revenue for local municipalities and the state. Using data from the 2015 fiscal year, a supplemental report specifically for Boca Raton found that the local arts and culture industry is responsible for over $20 million in economic activity (3). Among other specific findings, the report counted over 300,000 cultural event attendees, almost half of which were non-residents bringing money into the community.

To illustrate the connection between the art/culture industry and economic development, let us consider a specific example suggested by the 2020 Vision: open air venues. Using data from the 1990 and 2000 Decennial Censuses and the 2008-2012 American Community Survey, one study by Woronkowicz (2016) found that, as opposed to those without, neighborhoods with open-air performance venues “are associated with expansion and growth” and can play “a role in neighborhood revitalization” (4). Specifically, the study found that neighborhoods with open-air venues were associated with a statistically significant increase in population, income, property values, housing, employment, and rent as a percentage of household income. Notably, these results held true even when the authors accounted for the characteristics of the local population such as age, education, race/ethnicity, child status, and occupancy rates. Real world examples of successful open-air venues range from the Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park in Chicago to the WolfTrap in small towns like Vienna, Virginia. Studies such as these suggest there are viable strategies Boca can implement through the 2020 Vision to enrich the local economy and culture.

As stated above, in part two of this series, I will review the benefits and challenges of utilizing our parks and waterfront areas, and make an argument for the importance of public space.

(1) Markusen, Ann and Anne Gadwa. 2010. “Arts and Culture in Urban or Region Planning: A Review and Research Agenda.” Journal of Planning Education and Research 29(3): 379-391.

(2) Americas For The Arts. 2017. “Arts and Economic Prosperity 5: The Economic Impact of Nonprofit Arts and Cultural Organizations and Their Audiences. Summary Report

(3) Americas For The Arts. 2017. “Arts and Economic Prosperity 5: The Economic Impact of Nonprofit Arts and Cultural Organizations and Their Audiences in the City of Boca Raton, FL. Summary Report

(4) Woronkowicz, Joanna. 2016. “Art-Making or Place-Making? The Relationship Between Open-Air Performance Venues and Neighborhood Change.” Journal of Planning Education and Research 36(1): 49-59.

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Eric Sevell was born, raised, and currently resides in Boca Raton. He is currently finishing his PhDs in Sociology and Criminal Justice from Indiana University (IU). Eric has published on topics ranging from political attitudes to community and crime, and has taught Criminology and Deviant Behavior classes in person and online as an Associate Instructor for IU. He has a commitment to social justice and is interested in seeing Boca become a more equitable and inclusive place. In addition to his own engagement with local politics here, he is also a member of the 2020 Vision, a Boca Raton based non-profit working to develop the Wildflower and Silver Palm Parks alongside the city.


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