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Thread: A regional entertainment concept plan

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    Cyburbian gicarto's avatar
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    A regional entertainment concept plan

    I have found that I really enjoy living in a rural setting where the city problems of long commutes are not present. Problem is, how can a small city in North Central Iowa that has declined over the last couple of decades, attract young professionals?
    I think that a regional entertainment concept plan is the way to go. My thought is that the small towns that surround the big towns can specialize in certain types of entertainment niches. One town offers a certain type of music; another has an independent movie theater, etc.
    Has anyone seen a regional entertainment plan for a rural area?
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  2. #2
    Cyburbian cch's avatar
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    I'm from Iowa, and I feel like the only thing keeping young professionals away, especially from the small towns, is a lack of jobs, first and foremost. If they have nowhere to work they aren't going to move there, no matter how great the entertainment may be. And good luck attracting commercial entertainment when the population isn't there to justify it.

    Sorry if I sound snippy. I get a little pissed about how everybody I grew up with has had to scatter all over the country. The only people I know who stayed in my hometown became nurses, teachers, or they work for the family business (which is struggling financially).

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    The reality is probably both a lack of jobs and a quality of life that does not appeal to younger people (especially).

    I have doena considerable amount of economic development work in Iowa and other rural states experiencing an outflow of younger and talented people. There are jobs for well-educated technical and professional people, but the job field is shallow. Yes, you can be an accountant at a manufacturing company. Yes, you can be a chemist at an ethanol plant. Yes, you can be a veterinarian, doctor, lawyer, etc. Still, your selection of jobs is limited and if you want to change jobs, you are almost certainly looking at moving to another region.

    When it comes to quality of life, I believe the greatest issue is that there are a limited number of similarly educated young people whith whom to associate. Secondly, rural places lack the vibrancy of a big city. Of course, there are the exceptions, like Jackson, Wyoming or Bend, Oregon, that appeal to the outdoor crowd. But rural Iowa, Kansas, or Dakota? Sorry, but...

    One of our recent projects invcluded a survey of people hired in the past five years. On the subject of entertainment, we received a number of comments about "nothing but smoky bars," almost all of them from people who had moved to the area. People who had moved to the area also considered the selection of restaurants to be poor, whereas locals actually thought it good. These two examples point out something I have seen but not documented in other communities. There is a difference between what locals and others think is important to attracting new residents (or even keeping their young.) These findings have significant implications for what kinds of entertainment should be provided. Do you build the pool, support the concerts in the park, and put on cage fights for the locals? Or do you support a new coffee shop, health club, and tougher urban design guidelines for the talent you want to attract?
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  4. #4
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    I have a similar problem here in rural North Carolina only a lot of our small towns are "dry" ... no smoky bars, no bars at all!

    One solution that may work better out by you is that of a beer garden. If I could make one contribution to community building it would be the re-introduction of the beer garden. For communities like ours there is a confluence of circumstances pointing to the creation of beer gardens:

    * cheap land
    * no nightlife
    * no community spaces

    In the face of these I think you could build a beer garden that serves the community. Specifically, beer gardens have wide open spaces with picnic tables and other communal forms of seating. The very best gardens have stages for music and drama productions (think high school theater manners of production). I would add an additional element -- vending spaces that can be rented to vendors selling food and beer. In other words, the beer garden serves as a purpose as community hall, entertainment center, and business incubator (some of those vendors may choose to leave and start their own businesses.)

    And, of course, beer gardens are attractions for outsiders and tourists.

    The biggest impediment I see is the large number of Protestants who see alcohol as an ill or evil. Calling this concept a "beer garden" invites protest and community bickering.

    Finally, part of this is generational. The younger generations may replace their parents and retain a familiarity with the beer garden without any bad association with alcohol.

    So, that's my two cents and what I would like to see happen here. If you build a beer garden then send me a picture-

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    OK, trying to get beyond all the NEGATIVITY

    1. One thing that should add luster and activity to any small downtown is a well-built covered (but not walled-in) space for farmers’ market (say on a Saturday) and that can be used for other community activities (Christmas caroling, other festive occasions, concerts in the summer, etc.).

    2. Have you considered something as simple as ‘subsidizing’ a couple of cinemas that show something other than what is available at the mall multiplex? It doesn’t have to be super high-brow. Even some revival festivals (Sci-Fi movies of the 1980s; Frank Capra movies, etc.)? If it attracts business it should be coordinated with local cafes / bars staying open to catch some of the after-show crowd.

    3. The power of ‘clusters’. A collection of entertainment venues (upward of 3, I’d say) or retail that specialize in one category (one that ahs a local market that is) and does it well will tend to attract people for the choice, etc.
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  6. #6
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Luca View post
    OK, trying to get beyond all the NEGATIVITY

    1. One thing that should add luster and activity to any small downtown is a well-built covered (but not walled-in) space for farmers’ market (say on a Saturday) and that can be used for other community activities (Christmas caroling, other festive occasions, concerts in the summer, etc.).

    2. Have you considered something as simple as ‘subsidizing’ a couple of cinemas that show something other than what is available at the mall multiplex? It doesn’t have to be super high-brow. Even some revival festivals (Sci-Fi movies of the 1980s; Frank Capra movies, etc.)? If it attracts business it should be coordinated with local cafes / bars staying open to catch some of the after-show crowd.

    3. The power of ‘clusters’. A collection of entertainment venues (upward of 3, I’d say) or retail that specialize in one category (one that ahs a local market that is) and does it well will tend to attract people for the choice, etc.
    All good ideas, but not applicable to most of the communities in question. Withiout spending time in these rural communities, it is hard to understand the issues. We are talking about small places, with populations in the hundreds to a very few thousand. It is many miles to a larger community - a drive of 100 miles or more is not uncommon. Educational attainment lags much of the country, and young, educated people move out. The jobs that are available tend to be manual or mechanical, and not the jobs that a person with a college degree will return to work at. The entertainment that is available tends to be an occassional concert at the county fair or similar event, the local band playing playing a summer concert, a one-screen theater from the 1930's, tractor pulls, cage fights, etc. It is not what young professionals are looking for. Neither is live theater or art museums, byt the way. By entertainment, we need to think of a social environment. This means plenty of other young professionals, good gatherring places, multiple options for places to go to eat, drink, be entertained, or just hang out, good shopping, and appealing places to live.

    The problem with the rural communities is that they simply gain the critical mass necessary to be an attractive place.
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  7. #7
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    This is a real challenge, I think, and one which presents a bit of a cart-and-horse dilemma. Historically, I think the "conventional wisdom" has been that you must have the population and money in place first (ie. the young professionals) and then the entertainment elements will come to support that. But I am not sure this is always true and certainly people like Richard Florida (for whom I have mixed feelings) have been trying to break out of typical ways of thinking to envision a new kind of "creative economy."

    One angle I thought of is to actually appeal directly to artists who are often in need of affordable places to live and work. The emergence of an "artist colony" (whether formal or informal) can often stimulate the development of the kinds of things you are talking about. Big cities (like Pittsburgh) and small towns (see below) have been successful with this strategy, especially in areas where a large amount of commercial/industrial structures remain vacant and underutilized.

    The dusty little town of Truth or Consequences New Mexico is a good example. With a population of about 7000, the place was suffering economically and the population was waning. But in recent years, many artists have moved there from elsewhere in the US to set up shop. There has been a lot of renovation of boarded up strorefronts and a resurgence of other commercial activity as a result. check it out: http://www.torcart.com/ Its still dusty town on the edge of civilization, but the improvements are notable.

    Another idea to throw in there is something I saw implemented in rural western Canada. I used to work with a traditional dance and music company from Uganda who ended up touring in Saskatchewan, Alberta and BC in January (don't ask why) in a whole slew of remote, rural towns. The company organizing the tour worked this out by getting participating towns to be part of a subscriber series where they paid tickets in advance to bring exceptional artists to rural areas (that way there is no gamble as to whether people will turn out for the show or if they will lose their shirts that night). I'm not sure if they didn't also have some sort of subsidy, but however they did it, it was a way to get some performers whose shows could not otherwise be supported by a lower income population into remote areas. The performers loved the more intimate interaction with the public, too.

    Lastly, there is the time-tested idea of a large musical (or other arts) festival that draws people from a larger region. Many small towns that were otherwise unknown have been successful at doing this. It brings in money (if only for a week or two), but also exposes people to places they might not otherwise have thought to live in or visit.
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  8. #8
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by wahday View post
    This is a real challenge, I think, and one which presents a bit of a cart-and-horse dilemma. Historically, I think the "conventional wisdom" has been that you must have the population and money in place first (ie. the young professionals) and then the entertainment elements will come to support that. But I am not sure this is always true and certainly people like Richard Florida (for whom I have mixed feelings) have been trying to break out of typical ways of thinking to envision a new kind of "creative economy."

    One angle I thought of is to actually appeal directly to artists who are often in need of affordable places to live and work. The emergence of an "artist colony" (whether formal or informal) can often stimulate the development of the kinds of things you are talking about. Big cities (like Pittsburgh) and small towns (see below) have been successful with this strategy, especially in areas where a large amount of commercial/industrial structures remain vacant and underutilized.

    The dusty little town of Truth or Consequences New Mexico is a good example. With a population of about 7000, the place was suffering economically and the population was waning. But in recent years, many artists have moved there from elsewhere in the US to set up shop. There has been a lot of renovation of boarded up strorefronts and a resurgence of other commercial activity as a result. check it out: http://www.torcart.com/ Its still dusty town on the edge of civilization, but the improvements are notable.

    Another idea to throw in there is something I saw implemented in rural western Canada. I used to work with a traditional dance and music company from Uganda who ended up touring in Saskatchewan, Alberta and BC in January (don't ask why) in a whole slew of remote, rural towns. The company organizing the tour worked this out by getting participating towns to be part of a subscriber series where they paid tickets in advance to bring exceptional artists to rural areas (that way there is no gamble as to whether people will turn out for the show or if they will lose their shirts that night). I'm not sure if they didn't also have some sort of subsidy, but however they did it, it was a way to get some performers whose shows could not otherwise be supported by a lower income population into remote areas. The performers loved the more intimate interaction with the public, too.

    Lastly, there is the time-tested idea of a large musical (or other arts) festival that draws people from a larger region. Many small towns that were otherwise unknown have been successful at doing this. It brings in money (if only for a week or two), but also exposes people to places they might not otherwise have thought to live in or visit.

    Granted, these are all things communities can do for events to entertain people. Dance companies, festivals, musicals.... You think big, and that is what we planners are told to do. But most people make just a few big plans and make many small plans. What am I going to do after work today? Where am I going for lunch? Where can I go to find a large selection of 22-25 year old women to potentially score with? These things matter to young professionals much, much more than the annual soybean festival or the local theater company's upcoming production of "The Importance of Being Earnest." And that is why these small towns have so much trouble attracting and keeping talented young people. They yearn for a different quality of life that cannot be met with the population and market conditions in these places. Yes, some places are better than others. Truth or Consequences is better than Lordsburg. But it is not Albuquerque or santa Fe or even Taos, and it never will be.
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  9. #9
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    Granted, these are all things communities can do for events to entertain people. Dance companies, festivals, musicals.... You think big, and that is what we planners are told to do. But most people make just a few big plans and make many small plans. What am I going to do after work today? Where am I going for lunch? Where can I go to find a large selection of 22-25 year old women to potentially score with? These things matter to young professionals much, much more than the annual soybean festival or the local theater company's upcoming production of "The Importance of Being Earnest." And that is why these small towns have so much trouble attracting and keeping talented young people. They yearn for a different quality of life that cannot be met with the population and market conditions in these places. Yes, some places are better than others. Truth or Consequences is better than Lordsburg. But it is not Albuquerque or santa Fe or even Taos, and it never will be.
    I see your point. I was trying (perhaps unsuccessfully) to suggest also that some of these bigger ideas may also result in some of that smaller commercial activity that can enhance the quality of life for people on a day to day level. Artists helping to reinvent a town is not only about galleries, but also the other businesses that compliment and support those activities - restaurants, cafes, etc. The same is true of the annual festival. As I mentioned, while the big buck benefit is only a short spike, it does bring people to the town and that exposure can sometimes result in people choosing it as a potential place to live, do business, etc. And local folks are given an entrepreneurial opportunity to capitalize on it as well. Not perfect, but a place to start a conversation about ideas, perhaps.

    I recognize, though, that you are talking about places with very small populations and I agree that the lack of financial base and even interest in these kinds of entertainment activities by the existing population may be the largest hurdle to attracting young professionals to this setting. T or C isn't going to become a bustling center of commerce, but its got more energy than in decades. In general, though, people are moving there to live on the cheap and have a small (but significant) life in a small corner of the world and not much more.

    And, for the record, most everywhere is better than Lordsburg, except maybe Deming .
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  10. #10
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by wahday View post
    And, for the record, most everywhere is better than Lordsburg, except maybe Deming .
    Deming is THAT bad? Wow.

    The arts effect is something that I have often seen in communities that also have some natural amenities. Think of mountain towns like Salida or Pagosa Springs in Colorado, many small towns in the Sierra foothills, or along the coast of Maine. You will also see one or two about an hour outside of metropolitan areas. These places do seem to be a bit more attractive to younger people. I think the natural features are key to this, but the artists tend to have more liberal and open-minded attitudes that also make it easier for younger people to fit in.

    I often wonder if there is a point to places like Iowa and South Dakota trying to attract young professionals. As a state, they might simply focus those efforts on places like Des Moines, Ames, Sioux Falls, and the Black Hills, where the strategy has some chance of success. The smaller towns can attract some new educated/professional residents, but these tend to be middle-aged people who have moved back because they grew up there or still have family there. These people have social and entertainment preferences that are a little closer to the existing population in their age cohort (though there are still big differences, as our research shows).
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