How To Rejuvenate A City Through Art: Part One

Written by Robert Lowdon

Robert Lowdon is an internationally published commercial photographer based out of Toronto, Canada. He spends his time photographing architecture and industrial projects for the most part.

Published December 11, 2016

Downtown winnipeg in winter at night

The Problem

The Downtown has been suffering for the last couple of decades. With the rise of suburbia, citizens flocked away from the downtown core. Strip malls popped up, chains thrived, we all chased “the dream” while our cities rotted from the inside. Crime increased, jobs were lost, and cities suffered under urban sprawl.

The problem is when cities spread outward, the costs to maintain them skyrocket. New roads need to be built, sewers and waterlines are erected, and power run for new homes. Traffic gets out of control because we all have to travel long distances to work. Taxes increase as a result, cost of living skyrockets. There is a tendency to avoid the downtown due to all these reasons and more.

When we moved away from the downtown, businesses suffered and shuttered their doors. We lost a lot of good paying jobs for our citizens leading to poverty. With poverty, crime rates increased, keeping even more of our population away from our downtown cores. With a lack people about, crime grows further. The lack of people / witnesses in the area is crimes best friend (he is not a very nice dude). It is striking how many of our societal issues stem specifically from poverty.

Our buildings fell into disrepair, our citizens no longer felt safe and the downtown core began to rot from the inside. Until recently, things started to change.

The New Story Line

Cities started to invest in their downtown again. Development of housing was increased, because people wanted to start living in the downtown again. When we lived in the area, we started to care about the neighborhood again. We talked to our neighbor’s and built new communities we were proud of. As a result, new local businesses started to sprout up to serve the new downtown population and slowly with a lot of work, our downtown became safe again and that pride in our community was something to behold.

What Is This Art You Speak Of

Now how to did we get to this new utopia, where our downtown was thriving and our population wanted to once again live downtown? We invested in the arts.

I think when most view investment in the arts they generally see it as a painting on the wall or some outlandish avant-garde self-expressionistic whatever-the-hell. We need to think more of art in the general term, or on the macro level. Try to think of art as less than something pretty and more as human expression – emotion, and everything great inside that. So we will start with just a few examples (yeah right) and expand on the ideas.

Urban Design

Great urban design makes cities more walk-able. It provides places for us to play (like parks). The best designed cities function well for their inhabitants. It makes you simply want to exist in the space.


Well-designed buildings that function well and add to their environment are the basis of any city. Great architecture is stunning while bad architecture is a matter of taste.

Festivals / Entertainment

As human beings, we are based on emotion. It defines our total being. Entertainment soothes and challenges us. We laugh, sometimes cry, it expands our thinking and brings fun into our lives.


I do not think there is a person alive that does not enjoy music in some form or another. It is a part of the human condition.


We rave about great food. It is so much a part of the human experience that we require it to live. A great chef is an artisan mixing flavors presenting a work of art to be consumed.


We all dance, whether it is flailing about like some kind of mad orangutan (this guy right here) or a little more structured.


A lot may argue that sport is not an art form, yet it has all the trappings of so many art forms it cannot be ignored. Drama, physicality, moments of great triumph and crushing defeats. There is hardly any reason not to call sport an art form.


Live performance, plays and yes even Hollywood movies fall into theater. How many movies did we watch last year? I do not know, would be my answer, a lot.

Visual Arts

Painting, photography, mixed media, and on and on and on again. Visual arts stir emotion in the viewer.


Craft, in my eyes, represents anything made by human beings. Well-crafted items are so heavily entrenched in our humanity that they are pretty much a part of us. I count 15 items that I am presently wearing, and that is just right now. Granted it is cold in here, and that varies from day to day.

These are just a few examples of art, or perhaps humanity. I think the proper term for art is as such. As human beings, we tend to want to classify everything, and put them into tiny boxes. The problem is it just does not work that way.

That is All Fine and Good but How Does This Make Any Difference

See the thing is when we invested in arts in our downtown our population wanted to start being around it. We liked living in well-built neighborhoods that were safe. We liked taking our children to festivals. We enjoyed our Sunday strolls for coffee and walking our dogs in our parks. We liked getting to know the person who made what we owned, and we thought it was kind of cool to see their kids grow. We took pride in building things with our hands. We were proud to show our community and help out our neighbors because we knew a great community is only as good as the sum of all of its parts.

How Art Has Helped Other Communities

New York

In the 1980s, New York was out of control. A skyrocketing murder rate, crime rampant in the streets, the city was covered in garbage, literally…

End of Part 1

Part 2 will be posted shortly

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