The University of Utah
College of Architecture + Planning

Arts and Shrinking Cities

The Relationship between the Arts and Downtown Redevelopment in a Shrinking City:  A St. Louis Case Study

[This work was completed in 2013-2014.]

This research was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), CFDA 45.024, Opportunity # 2013NEAORA. Corresponding web pages include information on project personnel, working papers and presentations, data definitions, and other related research. Inquiries may be directed to Joanna Ganning at (801) 587-8129 or

The idea that arts and artists play a critical role in transforming blighted neighborhoods into hip enclaves is well established in existing literature (e.g., Currid 2009; Lloyd 2002).

Reduced to its simplest, artists seek out low-rent areas, bringing with them a creative vibrance and authenticity that attracts new businesses and residents, which works to raise rents, often pricing out the very artists that helped place the neighborhood into an upward trajectory. This process has been coined the “SoHo effect” (i.e., Molotch and Treskon 2009).

While the relationship of arts businesses and redevelopment has been studied extensively in world-class cities, it remains understudied in weaker market, shrinking cities. With tight municipal budgets, these cities are well-advised to develop clear, place-specific understandings of the economic interaction between economic development and the arts. Planners need a better understanding of their efficacy in addressing arts-based goals (Currid 2009). Finally, there are ethical considerations relating to cultural planning for the arts in downtowns that have specific applications for shrinking cities.

Using block-level data, this project evaluates the role of the arts in the redevelopment of a weak market, U.S. shrinking city: St. Louis. Between 2000 and 2010, over $5 billion was invested in downtown St. Louis, transforming it from a place characterized as having millions of square feet of vacant space to being an enclave for young, white-collar workers. Over the decade, the downtown population grew by 143%, despite a loss of 8.3% for the city as a whole1. The combination of a broader shrinking city and large scale downtown redevelopment provides an ideal context for testing for the SoHo effect in a weak market city. Specifically, this research asks three questions:

1) Do the arts function as an anchor institution in downtown redevelopment?

While we know that the arts benefit economic development, arts-based businesses often lack the characteristics of the stable, large, immediately recognizable businesses that traditionally serve as anchors.

2) Does the “SoHo effect” occur in weak market cities?

If not, does a distinct, shrinking cities-specific relationship exist between the arts and downtown redevelopment? If so, how and by what mechanisms do the arts and redevelopment interact?

3) If the arts are not displaced in shrinking cities, do the arts change in character as the downtown undergoes economic restructuring? If so, what equity issues arise for cultural planning in these places?

1U.S. Census 2000 and 2010, apportioned to the Downtown and Downtown West neighborhoods, as defined by the City of St. Louis


Currid, E. (2009). Bohemia as subculture; “Bohemia” as industry. Journal of Planning Literature, 23(4), 368-382. doi:10.1177/0885412209335727

Lloyd, R. (2002). Neo-bohemia: Art and neighborhood redevelopment in Chicago. Journal of Urban Affairs, 24(5), 517-532.

Molotch, H., & Trekson, M. (2009). Changing art: SoHo, Chelsea and the dynamic geography of galleries in New York City. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 33(2), 517-541. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2427.2009.00866.x

Project Personnel

Working Papers & Presentations

Data Definitions & Appendices

Related Resources