Changing Neighborhoods and U.S. Arts Institutions

By Justin Reeves Meyer (The Ohio State University)

Arts institutions, defined as organizations that support art production and consumption space (such as performing arts complexes and museums), have been a popular neighborhood amenity in a variety of cities across the United States. They are believed to improve the livability of neighborhoods and to help attract human capital (highly educated and/or wealthy residents) to their locales. But what effect do they have on differently changing neighborhoods? Do new arts institutions help stabilize neighborhoods losing residents? Do they exacerbate the displacement of vulnerable populations in gentrifying neighborhoods? My research, presented in the UAR article “Changing neighborhoods and the effect of U.S. arts institutions on human capital and displacement between 2000 and 2010,” offers evidence and some answers to these questions.

The results of my research suggest that new arts institutions (those starting between 2000 and 2010) likely have a near-term, positive impact on the number of wealthy and highly educated residents in most neighborhoods by 2010. This positive impact on highly educated residents, in particular, even seems to apply in neighborhoods losing population. While the study did not yield strong evidence that new arts institutions caused immediate displacement of less wealthy or noncollege-educated residents in their neighborhoods (excepting ones with the largest increase in residents), the impact of older arts institutions (those that existed in a neighborhood before 2000) on displacement suggests that arts institutions may eventually lead to a decrease in these groups in the longer term.

The results of this study support several conclusions to help shape policy. First, arts institutions may indeed increase college educated or high income individuals, though by a relatively small amount. While this evidence is not reason enough to justify building or forming a new arts institution on its own, the positive association between arts institutions and human capital can add to the empirical support for projects already in development. Second, policy should dissuade placing these new institutions in high growth neighborhoods where there is evidence that they have increased displacement. Instead, policy should guide new arts institutions to moderately growing neighborhoods and especially to neighborhoods experiencing some (and not severe) decline. The evidence found here shows that new arts institutions can help retain and/or attract new human capital even in neighborhoods losing population. Lastly, the evidence that older arts institutions contribute to the displacement of lower socioeconomic groups (separate from new arts institution) means that any new arts institution project should be accompanied by efforts to prevent future displacement. These efforts could include increasing affordable housing, as well as encouraging new arts institutions to locate in vacant or underused properties, which would minimize the need to build on land where other housing could be located.

The methods I used to come to these conclusions use Census data at the Census tract level (my proxy for neighborhoods), standardized by three different sources: the Longitudinal Tract Database (LTDB), the National Historical Geographic Information System (NHGIS), and by myself in Quantum Geographic Information System (QGIS). Focusing on the 241 U.S. cities with a population above 100,000 in the year 2000, I used the statistical software R ( to systematically ‘match’ Census tracts with an increase in arts institutions between 2000 and 2010 (treatment tracts) to Census tracts that did not have an increase in arts institutions (control tracts). I matched these two groups for tracts that experienced five different kinds of population change between 2000 and 2010: extreme decline, moderate decline, little change, moderate growth, extreme growth. By matching tracts in this way, I made sure that the treatment tracts and the control tracts were just about identical in several socioeconomic and geographic characteristics as of 2000. I then used R to predict change in the aforementioned residential groups based on several predictors, including socioeconomic, geographic, and city characteristics. I also included previous human capital/gentrification trends of each tract as predictors. This two-step process (matching tracts and modeling their outcomes) is a method used to set up observational data into a quasi-experiment, which means we can make modest causal claims about the presence of arts institutions.

I believe that my research makes three key contributions. First, it investigates how arts institutions may impact the residency of four groups connected to both gentrification and arts institutions: highly educated people (those with 4-year college degrees), high income people (those with household incomes over $100,000), non-college-educated people (those without a 4-year college degree), and lower income people (those with household incomes of $49,000 or less). College educated residents are not always the same as high income residents, and yet they are often treated interchangeably in the concept of human capital. Similarly, noncollege-educated residents are sometimes implicitly treated the same as lower income residents. My research looks at each of these groups individually.

Second, my research also looks at how new arts institutions impact neighborhoods differently from older arts institutions. Other scholars have noted that older arts institutions, or arts institutions already existing in a neighborhood, attract new ones. I take into account the number of already existing arts institutions (as of 2000) into my study. In doing so, I can separate out the impact that new arts institutions have that is unique from arts institutions that already exist in neighborhoods.

Third, my research investigates how new arts institutions impact neighborhoods experiencing different kinds of change, differently. At face value, a new arts institution might be expected to impact a neighborhood with a declining population differently than a neighborhood with an increasing population. The results of my study bear this out. Further, by understanding these differences, my research gives policymakers evidence to support guiding the development of arts institutions toward modest/low growth neighborhoods and to guide development away from the highest growth neighborhoods.

Read the article here.

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

Author Biography

Justin Reeves Meyer is a research associate at Lifelong Learning Group, at the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio. He also teaches graphic communication and urban design for the city and regional planning section at The Ohio State University. His research focuses on the connection between arts/cultural institutions and neighborhoods. He holds a PhD in urban planning from the University of Michigan, and degrees in environmental design in architecture and product design from the University of Cambridge (Darwin College) and Stanford University, respectively.

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