Artist Incentive Zoning

As other cities follow suit, Boston leads the way in creating artist housing through developer incentive programs and design requirements.

"Boston is not the only city that has promoted artist housing in recent years. From Berkeley, California, to Pawtucket, Rhode Island, municipalities have adopted a range of artist-friendly measures, including zoning allowances and tax incentives. But Boston's program, launched in 2002, is one of the country's most ambitious. In a high-pressure real estate market, the Artist Space Initiative aims to make the presence of artists enduring, rather than a stage on the way to gen­tri­fication. 'This is the whole reason it emphasizes the creation of permanent space,' says Heidi Burbidge, who coordinates the pro­­gram at the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), the city's planning agency."

"Boston already requires that at least 15 percent of units in large new residential buildings be priced based on income limits. Artists' units with specific requirements for ventilation, insulation, and loading can be tacked onto the affordable component of a building, adding bohemian cachet."

Full Story: Degentrifying Condos




There’s a disconnect between this article’s headline—“Degentrifying Condos: A program in Boston preserves live/work spaces for artists in new buildings”—and its content, which is summed up by the caption underneath the accompanying photos: “FP3, in Fort Point, Boston, used to house artists’ studios. In July the two warehouses were converted into condos by Hacin + Associates. The Artist Space Initiative saved three of the original studios.” The preservation of three studios is better than the destruction of all, but let’s not pretend this is “degentrification.”

It may well be that “Boston’s program, launched in 2002, is one of the country’s most ambitious” efforts to enable artists to live in “a high-pressure real estate market.” Certainly the creation of nearly 200 permanent artists’ units is a stark contrast to the direction being pursued by my own city of Berkeley, where, far from “promot[ing] artist housing in recent years,” as this article asserts, a neoliberal mayor and planning department are trying to dismantle zoning protections for artists, artisans and other production workers in the town’s only industrial district. So good for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the city’s planning agency.

But the article itself indicates that for all of Boston’s good intentions and actions, “’the arts community has been getting the short end of the stick.’” According to “a leader of the Fort Point Arts Community,” the number of artists in Fort Point has decreased from 600 in the early nineties to 250. Meanwhile, developers respond to “troubled economy” by shifting their focus from residential to commercial projects. The current challenges of the market aside, there’s a pervasive attitude problem that’s inherent in the reporter’s reference to the presence of a few artists in a new condominium building as “adding bohemian cachet.”

If artists are to survive and thrive in strong market cities, they need to be seen as more than come-ons to the prospective owners of housing that that’s unaffordable to the artists themselves. Achieving that enlarged view requires political leadership that’s extraordinarily farsighted, independent and determined—the likes of which is hard to find.

Zelda Bronstein

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