Place Matters

Artists and creative producers have always been drawn to certain aspects of life in the city. When planning a cultural facility development, it is important to keep in mind what types of spaces and communities will be most desirable for your potential tenants.

Why Place Matters

The clustering of creative business and activity in downtown areas is an internationally recognised phenomenon. Indeed, many towns and cities across the globe have invested heavily in securing, attracting, anchoring and sustaining creative and cultural industry clusters, and cultural districts, in their cities.

The creative and cultural sector is drawn to dense urban districts with distinct identities. These types of urban neighbourhoods support diverse labour markets, offer easy access to a range of suppliers, collaborators and markets and enable knowledge exchange through formal and informal networks. Creative and cultural sector workers and businesses place a high value on the face-to-face networking and social exchange found in these neighbourhoods.

The concept of a cultural ecology – a dense, connected system of interdependent, multidimensional and dynamic infrastructure – is useful to understand and leverage the potential of clustering creative activity in a city. Cultural ecologies comprise a distinct and evolving blend of community, educational, recreational, cultural, entrepreneurial and entertainment venues and environments that generate “thickness” within the creative fabric of a city. They provide the necessary infrastructure that promotes cross-fertilization between a varied mix of stakeholders and interest groups, cultural producers, artists, entrepreneurs and residents.

Underpinning the formation and growth of a cultural ecology, or “soft” infrastructure, is the mix of “hard” infrastructure – the workspaces, galleries, theatres, cafés, streets and public spaces that provide critical social and economic spaces for interaction. These tangible elements of urban form combine the functional with the aesthetic and the symbolic to provide vital conduits for inspiration, connectivity and expression. Infused with a mix of uses, meanings and experiences, these places reveal themselves as authentic, distinctive, permeable and diverse habitats that attract and sustain a diverse range of creative activity.

Strategically developing and linking creative communities goes beyond the built landscape to focus on the equally critical soft infrastructure. Face-to-face interaction and networking are key components of creative and cultural sector clustering.

Successful regeneration enhances the cultural ecology’s sustainability and resiliency by focusing on the critical intersections of creative people and unique places, a dynamic that serves to unlock the potential of both.


Place Matters in Toronto

In Toronto, as in most large urban centres, creative and cultural establishments are heavily concentrated in the downtown.  In 2008, Artscape mapped 11,500 creative and cultural sector establishments, including individual artists and creative sector freelancers, in the greater Toronto area, of which about 9,500 were located in the city of Toronto.

This mapping revealed more dense concentrations of creative and cultural establishments in particular neighbourhoods that offer a rich urban fabric of amenities, proximity to major public transit corridors, the presence of academic institutions, relatively affordable living and/or work space, and opportunities for interaction with other individuals, organizations and businesses. Almost 75% of total creative sector establishments were located within 10 km of the downtown core. Nearly half of the micro and small creative firms and freelancers in the region (i.e. those with 10 employees or less) were located in the dense, mixed-use districts within 5 km of the city’s financial core.

By mapping where artists and creative people lived (as opposed to worked), we could also easily see that there was a very strong correlation between the two. Clearly, artists and creative people are drawn to neighbourhoods with similar place characteristics for both work and home.

The recent report “From the Ground up: Growing Toronto’s Cultural Sector” provides new tools for identifying and visualising geographic patterns of the city’s cultural resources. The “Cultural Location Index” measures the city’s cultural economy at the intersection of culture, economy and place and the report also highlights the importance of cultural “scenes” in urban economies.

When Artscape surveyed individual creative practitioners and artists in Toronto we found the place characteristics that are attractive to this community included neighbourhoods that offer a diverse critical-mass of other like-minded individuals and businesses, as well as amenities and infrastructure that connect people to each other and also to resources. A sense of safety, proximity to public transit and the downtown core were the three most important considerations. Important amenities mentioned included restaurants, gathering spaces (e.g. galleries, public spaces), supply shops, retail, and business services (e.g. printers).

Key place characteristics fell into two broad categories:

  • Proximity to buyers/clients/markets
  • Proximity to suppliers
  • Close to business support services
  • Part of a supportive community
  • Close to other creative practitioners
  • Close to competitors/collaborators
  • Close to public transit
  • Close to downtown core
  • Sense of safety
  • Close to major transportation routes
  • Close to home
  • Proximity to green/public space
  • Active street life
  • Proximity to independent restaurant/retail

According to the survey, 50 to 72% of goods and services bought and sold by creative and cultural businesses, organizations, individual artists and freelancers in the sector were in the downtown and central areas. Similar percentages were found for the location of collaborating firms and peers.


Space Matters to Artists, Arts Organizations and Creative Businesses 

Of course, location is the major factor in site selection, however, the quality of space will also play an important role.

Artscape’s 2008 survey confirmed our understanding of the space needs and preferences of artists, creative practitioners and small arts and cultural organizations and businesses, based on 25 years experience in the field. Above all, artists and arts organizations seek affordable, safe and secure workspace, or live/work space. Affordability, in Toronto, trumps every other factor for individuals and organizations across all fields of creative practice, with more than 90% of survey respondents ranking it essential or important.

There is also a clear preference for certain types of space. Structural elements high on the Essential/Important list included:

  • Raw workable space
  • Natural Light
  • Flexibility/room to expand
  • Soundproofing

The overall design and architecture of the building and a sense of character or authenticity were important factors for many respondents, as was a sense of community – of working in proximity with similar practitioners. A supportive landlord was also regarded as a plus.

If you are actively seeking a location for a new cultural facility, it is likely that these are exactly the types of neighbourhoods and spaces that you will be drawn to and that will be most attractive to your potential tenants. Finding an affordable site, with the right kinds of physical characteristics, in the right kind of neighbourhood, is increasingly challenging across many urban centres. If you take a look at our case studies, you will see that at Artscape we have been creating new approaches to developing affordable space in Toronto’s most in-demand creative neighbourhoods for over 20 years.

If your search for the perfect space in the perfect location is proving frustrating, consider some of the main space- and place-based drivers of cultural facility development and consider if your needs and interests might align with others with compatible interests. Also think about the key considerations for site selection and explore the potential of surplus public sector sites and local government or province-wide incentives that might ease the financial burden of project development and operation. You can find out more about how your city can help here, and you can explore the sorts of planning and fiscal tools and incentives that might be available to you in Planning Tools 101.

Click here to download and read about the Place and Space Characteristics of the Creative and Cultural Sector in Convergence Centres: Building Capacity for Innovation (Artscape 2009).

Click here to read a report on the Concentrations of Cultural Workers in Canada’s Five Largest Cities (Hill Strategies 2010).

Click here to read From the Ground Up: Growing Toronto’s Cultural Sector.

Click here for advice and guidance for individual artists and small arts organizations on the search for work and live/work space in Square Feet: An Artist’s Guide to Renting or Buying Creative Space.