The die is cast...
What to do with the Scioto Peninsula?
Since the Scioto Peninsula is the last large swatch of undeveloped city-owned property in downtown Columbus, the question of how best to develop it should be of great concern to those people who consider themselves to be Cultural Creatives. According to the book Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World, this segment of the population is comprised of the more educated, leading-edge thinkers and includes many writers, artists, musicians, psychotherapists, feminists, alternative health care providers and other professionals. So if you live and breath creativity, enjoy contemplating ideas and care about the welfare of the planet – CCs also like to combine a serious focus on their spirituality with a strong passion for social activism – then you are a part of this important demographic. Large corporate developers and political cronies, on the other hand, wouldn’t normally qualify as such. And therein lies the problem with the future of the Scioto Peninsula. For who do you think is in charge of its development? And whose interests do you think they really represent?
This is not to say the people who benefit the most from crony capitalism are bad evil people. But they do tend to be selfish opportunists. And because their interests are more narrowly defined by short-term economic returns, too often to the detriment of creativity as a means of problem solving social issues on a long-term basis, they tend to be more short-sighted than Cultutral Creatives, a class of people who seek a broader and more integral solution to questions concerning the relationship between economy and ecological sustainability. Thus the answer over how best to develop the Scioto Peninsula is dependent upon whether metrics are based upon short- or long-term growth models and how sociologically and ecologically complex those metric considerations are (or whether such complexities are taken into account at all).
If not this, what? If not now, when? If not here, where?
Traditional development models are easy to predict. Given the insider nature of who’s in charge of the Scioto Peninsula development project, the proposal we can expect will be conventional and straightforward, pack full of nothing but residential and commercial retail. Aside from being new constructions, traditional development models offer nothing bold or innovative to get excited about. Assuming this is what we can expect from a Scioto Peninsula development model, why should we be impressed? Seriously, what will a traditional residential and commercial district do for Columbus that all the other residential development projects over the past ten years haven’t done? What will this residential and commercial district do to change Columbus’ “No gain brain-drain” Creative Class problem? What will this residential and commercial district do to combat Columbus’ negative cow-town cultural image? And most importantly, what will this residential and commercial district do differently to move our society towards a more verdant, equitable and sustainable model of development? Einstein’s definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Why should we expect that the transformation of the Scioto Peninsula, the last piece of undeveloped land in downtown Columbus, into another mixed-use residential and commercial district will do anything other than eliminate the possibility of a more bold and innovative development concept from emerging? Only in the mind of a crony capitalist is such an alternative development model inconceivable, undesirable and unattainable. Conversely, for any authentic Cultural Creative, the sleepy predictability of a traditional Scioto Peninsula development scenario is utterly grotesque.
Renaissance or bust
Because the Scioto Peninsula is the last undeveloped piece of city-owned downtown real estate large enough to support the construction of a new cultural arts hub facility, this is the last opportunity Columbus has to do just that, build a new Creative Class hub – a new “HUB” Stadium – and in the process plant the seed that will one day brand our city as the “Indie Art Capital of the World.” The only thing stopping us, ironically, is ourselves. For although the civic leadership continually reinforces the need for more creativity and innovation to fuel our economic development and grow our Creative Class, the growth of our fine arts Establishment at the institutional level has been totally stagnant, lackluster at best. What’s more, the disconnect by our leadership to realize this deficiency is symptomatic of the short-sightedness of their conservative development model mindset and is another reason why Cultural Creatives should be more than just a little bit concerned over the development of the Scioto Peninsula. For once this last piece of downtown real estate is turned into another conventional housing and commercial retail district, the potential of our city becoming the “Indie Capital of the World” will be lost – our cultural ceiling effectively capped.
What is needed to fix this problem is a matter of perspective. Not very long ago a published study found the Columbus Museum of Art to be the smallest art museum of all the major cities in the state. As a result of that study the CMA set out to raise capital funds for the renovation currently underway, part of what they consider to be a massive reconstruction and expansion project. But here is the problem with that viewpoint. The renovation did nothing to change the fact that the Columbus Museum of Art is still the smallest art museum of all the major cities in the state. How is this designation at all acceptable in a city that prides itself on being a litmus test for the biggest and the best? How is this possible in a city that has been the birthplace of so many groundbreaking ideas and influential people? How does this happen in the state’s capital no less? Symbolically speaking, this fact speaks volumes to this city’s image as a cultural cow-town and severely undermines the capacity of local Cultural Creatives to not just talk the talk but stand up with swagger and shout. It is painfully obvious to Cultural Creatives that without a world-class art museum to boast about, Columbus will never raise itself to the level of a world-class Creative Class hub. The CMA’s nip and tuck facelift might have been necessary, but that improvement falls under the category of routine maintenance and upkeep. What the CMA really needs is an extreme makeover the likes of which COSI experienced over a decade ago. Why the Establishment continues to balk at such a suggestion is an issue in dire need of deconstruction to further comprehend.
In defense of creativity and innovation
In addition to being predictable, another telltale sign of crony capitalism is the hypocrisy under which it operates. In this particular case, we listen as the Establishment encourages each and every one of us to embrace creativity and innovation as a way to grow our local economy and project a vital cultural image, yet at an institutional level we see a refusal to consider the possibility that it too might need to innovate, to reinvent itself, to better itself in a fundamental way; despite the fact this is exactly what needs to be done if Columbus ever expects to on transform itself into a legitimate Creative Class hub.
If we need an extreme makeover precedent that illustrates the substantial benefits to be gained by an institution willing to reinvent itself, let us look at what happened to COSI when it moved from where it used to be, just down the road from CCAD and the Columbus Museum of Art, to its new location as a cultural anchor on the Scioto Peninsula. The fact that the new and improved COSI has been voted the number one science museum in the nation by Parent Magazine is proof of what this city can accomplish at an institutional level when it thinks outside the box. What are the chances the old COSI would have received such a high ranking if its potential were still limited, boxed-in, by its old institutional identity? The COSI transformation is a perfect example of creativity and innovation coming together with leadership and vision to exact a significant cultural advance.
We find yet another summa cum laude precedent of an institutional extreme makeover reaping huge rewards with the Ohio State University’s Wexner Center for the Arts – deemed by some architectural historians as being the first, last and only piece of postmodernist architecture ever built. Aside from being a monumental testament to the value of creativity in design innovation, the decision to build the Wexner Center for the Arts represents a turning point in OSU’s decision to reinvent itself as the number one university in the nation, which it has all but done on many different fronts. Placed within an appropriate context, not only did the construction of the Wexner Center for the Arts twenty years ago mark the beginning of OSU’s extreme makeover, but it also represents the beginning of Columbus’ civic renaissance. Such is the visionary power of art.
And here is where the argument that Columbus needs to build a new art museum – a new Creative Class hub – becomes fairly self-evident. For if COSI can reinvent itself and become the number one science center in the nation; and OSU can reinvent itself to become the number one university in the country, the first step of which included a commitment to the principles of creativity and innovation in the form of a groundbreaking world-class art center; then how does it not make sense to assume an extreme makeover of the Columbus Museum of Art won’t be the missing link in reinventing Columbus as the “Indie Art Capital of the World?” If we want to grow a physical economy that will support enough Cultural Creatives to justify such a claim, then we need to build an actual physical structure that will facilitate that level of Creative Class swagger. Expecting the Columbus Museum of Art, the smallest museum of all the major cities in the state, to accommodate this task is totally absurd. The Columbus Museum of Art was adequate for a city comfortable with being considered the nation’s largest college cow-town; the Columbus Museum of Art is wholly inadequate for a city with something to prove.
The face of change
Over the past decade Columbus’ downtown housing market has seen unprecedented growth, exponential in fact. In that same time period Columbus Establishment also gave rise to Huntington Park and Nationwide Arena. A few years prior, the twins COSI and Crew Stadium were born. A few years before that the Columbus Convention Center underwent an extreme makeover. Before these still, the first building of our first-wave renaissance, the Wexner Center for the Arts was unveiled. In this same time period OSU, CCAD and Columbus State Community College have all undergone major transformational growth shifts. Likewise, the King-Lincoln District grew to include the Lincoln Theater, CAPA built a new Columbus Commons outdoor music stage and the riverfront reinvented Bicentennial Park and the Scioto Mile. A very impressive list of accomplishments to tout.
However, the one cultural institution in Columbus that hasn’t kept pace with downtown’s housing boom and cultural expansion, despite trying to cast their most recent routine maintenance and upkeep project as a major face-lift renovation, is the Columbus Museum of Art. Even if for the sake of argument we were to agree the current CMA face-lift were commensurate with the extreme makeovers of COSI or the Columbus Convention Center, we would still have to agree that its current renovation plans for a new parking garage are incapable of doing much for our cultural image other than invalidate any claim we make to being a Creative Class hub. Neither does it do anything to accommodate for the type of Creative Class growth necessary to meet that future projection. To think otherwise is a laughable offense, and a dangerous one at that. For once the Scioto Peninsula is developed, turned into just another traditional housing and retail district, the last piece of city-owned real estate in downtown Columbus large enough to accommodate the creation of a new cultural arts “HUB” facility will be gone. Likewise, its “Indie Art Capital of the World” dreams will be dead. All because our renaissance peaked and plateaued before it reached the zenith of its potential cultural crest. How anti-climactic.
It’s make or break time, Columbus
It is an unenviable position to be the bearer of bad news, unless, of course, you happen to be a trickster herald posing as a social entrepreneur in an effort to promote an even bigger cause. That cause, on the one level, is to turn Columbus into a Creative Class hub by getting this community to support the construction of a new concept museum called, for lack of a real name, the “HUB” Stadium smART Complex. Yet, on an even more profound level, the greater cause being presented is an opportunity to innovate the structural composition of our institutional reality, and in so doing fundamentally change the fabric of our society. Change is always complex. This change, this creation of a new collaborate institutional aesthetic, would be paradigmatic. Meaning evolutionary. Meaning a groundbreaking achievement on every level possible. What’s more, this shift would be a dramatic improvement over the type of dysfunctional institutional hierarchy we have today that seeks to doctor-down creativity and innovation in an effort to conserve its hold on its so-called power and authority. So the stakes over what to do with the Scioto Peninsula couldn’t be higher. Luckily, the negative risks concerning the two possible development outcomes are easily enough assessed.
On the one hand, crony capitalism wins, and the Scioto Peninsula gets developed into a traditional housing and retail district; in this scenario Columbus not only misses out on its potential to be crowned as the “Indie Art Capital of the World,” and nationally recognized as such, but also, as a result of passing up on this chance, becomes instead remembered as the “City of Broken Dreams,” the proverbial cow-town that failed to reach maturity because it was shortchanged by a conservative Establishment. This scenario is a good example of how crony capitalism manipulates the political system to its advantage, since the decision over what to do with a space like the Scioto Peninsula is never put to a public vote. It is precisely this lack of public oversight that enables crony capitalism to thrive.
On the other hand, we postpone the development of the Scioto Peninsula so all of us – the people of this community, the people in charge of coming up with a development plan for the Scioto Peninsula and the various leaders of targeted institutional bureaucracies – have a chance to evaluate the benefits of building a new Creative Class hub on the Scioto Peninsula. In this scenario there are no losers, not even on the crony capitalists side of things, since even if a “HUB” Stadium gets built on this property that still leaves room for traditional housing and retail to fill in whatever area is left undeveloped. Although space for traditional development will be more limited, whatever land left open to traditional development will be of far more value, since the limits on space will decrease supply at the same time the surplus value created by the “HUB” Stadium will increase property value. So the crony capitalists who would have benefited from a traditional Scioto Peninsula development model will still benefit, just not to the exclusion of a larger segment of the population, since a new Creative Class hub is bound to be more heavily trafficked than a housing and retail district, and perhaps not quite to the extent they otherwise would have; a small price to pay for helping turn Columbus into a new Creative Class hub. Whereas the benefits the “HUB” Stadium would bring to Columbus culturally (in terms of national visibility), economically (in terms of tourism), and politically (for those with the leadership to pull this off) is astronomical.
Look at it this way
Just because the necessary conditions for Columbus to become a Creative Class hub exist does not mean those conditions are sufficient in and of themselves to achieve that feat. Anyone who has studied the various attributes of Columbus goes away impressed by the number of assets we have at our disposal. And yet, those assets do not guarantee Columbus has what it takes to become an elite cultural hub. Anyone who follows local football knows that just because we have the biggest college football program in the nation doesn’t mean we make it to the Fiesta Bowl each year. We might even possess all the greatest players in any given year, but without a great coach we will still fail to reach the top. The same is true of our current cultural climate. We have the assets all in alignment, to the extent everyone in the Establishment recognizes the value of becoming a Creative Class hub; we have a star player in the “HUB” Stadium smART Complex, an innovation in the museum experience capable of achieving national iconic status; but do we have the leadership, that person who understands risk, recognizes potential and knows how to motivate people to get the best from what resources he has at his disposal? That is a question that remains to be answered. If we see the Scioto Peninsula get turned into another traditional housing and retail district, the answer will be no, we do not have the leadership to turn Columbus into the “Indie Art Capital of the World.” If we see the development decision for the Scioto Peninsula get delayed so that an in-depth study of the risks and benefits of building a new “HUB” Stadium can be determined, then the answer will be yes, we do have the leadership to take Columbus to the next level. Unfortunately, the decision over what to do with the Scioto Peninsula isn’t a game of football. For in football there is always next year’s team to look forward to if this year’s team fumbles the ball on fourth and goal. With the development of the Scioto Peninsula, there is only one chance to get it right, and if we make the wrong choice here now, the loss will be felt for decades.
The “HUB” shift
This is not the first time the idea to build a new art museum in Columbus has been proposed. Ten years ago, in a Columbus Alive article entitled, “City of tomorrow: ‘The New Eden Project,’ an ambitious plan to start a cultural renaissance in Columbus, is so crazy it just might work,” a similar proposal was put forth for the Whittier Peninsula. Although the idea generated some discussion regarding Columbus’ perennial “No Gain Brain Drain” problem, the question over whether or not it was possible to build a new “HUB” Stadium” concept museum, given its paradigmatic nature, was what seemed to most concern the article’s author. His concerns were not unfounded, for what was true about the nature of our institutions back then still holds true today. That is to say, the various reasons that prevented the Establishment from building a new “HUB” Stadium ten years ago are the same reasons the Establishment uses to discredit this idea today. That lack of willingness to engage in any sort of dialogue regarding the need to build a new art museum as a means to reinvent our cultural image is proof enough that it is the institutional nature of our Establishment that is the limiting factor in our city’s renaissance potential. So let us take a look at why the Establishment fails to enter into any public discussions concerning the possibility of building a new world-class “HUB” concept museum.
The first argument against building a new “HUB” stadium facility is the renovation project currently underway at the Columbus Museum of Art. This is the Establishment’s strongest argument since a substantial sum of money has been collected and invested towards this maintenance initiative. However, as was detailed previously, this is basically a routine maintenance project. It does little to expand the footprint or scale of the facility and at the end of the day it does absolutely nothing to change the fact the Columbus Museum of Art is the smallest museum of all the major cities in the state. This fact, symbolically speaking, is the main reason Columbus will never be viewed as a Creative Class hub in the eyes of Cultural Creatives. It is just not possible to make such disparate facts and realities mesh.
Secondly, as far as the money already raised towards the CMA face-lift is concerned, if the Establishment had been open to the idea of building a new “HUB” facility ten years ago when the idea was first proposed, the $80 million dollars they raised could have been the seed fund for building a new space. This lack of insight by the CMA foundation should not be an acceptable excuse to penalize a city that potentially would have endorsed the creation of a new “HUB” Stadium, had they been given a choice in the matter. Furthermore, just because the CMA is contractually bound to follow through with its current renovation plans does not mean they have to commit themselves to remaining in that space forever. People living in one house who want to move into another home – a bigger, better house – will often times renovate their old home in an effort to increase its value and help make the space more attractive to prospective buyers. The same can be true for the CMA foundation’s current renovation effort. Far from being out the money they raised, if a new “HUB” Stadium is an idea the people of this city want to see built, construction and development costs can be raised as part of a referendum or ballot initiative. People will support the idea of a new “HUB” Stadium if the reason for its creation is fully outlined. Or, if not, then the need to build a new art museum becomes a moot point. Either way, no capital has been wasted or lost.
Another reactionary position the Establishment could take to argue against the need for a new “HUB” facility is the fact that to date none of the ranking officials within our cultural institutions has expressed or acknowledged any such need exists. Now this should come as no surprise for anyone who understands the politics of power within any business-type operation. Given the fact the people who run our cultural institutions must answer to a Board of Trustees, it is not at all in the self-interest of such a candidate to express dissatisfaction and discontent with the institutions they are hired to run – not if they want to keep their job, that is. So the day one of our cultural leaders steps forward and states something to the effect that our art museum is an inadequate representation of our cultural aspirations, and that we need to build a new art museum if we ever expect to transform Columbus into a state-of-the-art Creative Class hub, is basically a day that will never happen. It’s not realistic under any condition, whether the assertion is true or not. An argument under these circumstances, when there is no possibility of the condition of the argument being met, is not an argument at all, but a rhetorical deceit built upon a false premise. The argument, in other words, is a logical fallacy and should not be considered a valid hypothesis. The only people incapable of recognizing why this is the case are crony capitalist, since this type of logical fallacy is what they use to justify their hypocrisy and positions of power.
The next default argument to try and discredit the need for a CMA extreme-makeover is that Columbus already has a world-class art center, the Wexner Center for the Arts, so why then do we need another? The thought process behind this argument is tragically uninformed and naïve and illustrates how a lack of innovative foresight undermines social progress. First of all, the Wexner Center is not an art museum. It is a contemporary art center. There is a world of difference between the two, and so to confuse them is a gross analytical mistake. Secondly, the Wexner Center is the prize accomplishment of OSU. The Columbus Museum of Art, in contrast, is the city’s namesake cultural icon. To substitute one for the other as if they were interchangeable or the same is a huge problem, since by comparison the historic legacy of the Wexner Center rides circles around the Columbus Museum of Art’s lack of one. If it weren’t but for the Columbus College of Art and Design stepping up its game to fill the void of CMA’s cultural impotence, the disparity between a Wexner Center-CMA comparison would be more readily apparent. Regardless, the inverted relationship dynamic between the city to OSU (and between the CMA to CCAD) is a damaging position for the city of Columbus to content itself with and it certainly doesn’t do much to advance the idea that after college Columbus is the place where Cultural Creatives want to find themselves stuck. The City of Columbus needs to establish a cultural identity that out bests OSU. Otherwise the cultural perception of Columbus’ cultural Establishment will seem forever cast in the shadow of OSU’s limelight.
And finally, despite the fine reputation of the Wexner Center for the Arts, in terms of its scale, it’s an even smaller building than the Columbus Museum of Art. If one of the problems with CMA is the fact that it is the smallest art museum of all the major cities in the state, pointing to the even smaller Wexner Center building to try and negate the need to build a new art museum is not a convincing argument, but rather a poor excuse to change the topic to avoid dealing with such an obvious critique. But avoiding the topic and confusing the issue does nothing to fix the negative effects the Columbus Museum of Art has on the cultural image of Columbus as a Creative Class hub. Crony capitalists have a hard time appreciating the subtle yet profound nature of this level of psychological complexity. But if we don’t confront the apologetic rationales that allow crony capitalists to do what they will despite the long-term consequences, then Columbus will never be the Creative Class hub it has the potential to be. Given a choice, why would we choose to be anything but state-of-the-art? Why, when we know the CMA is the smallest art museum of all the major cities in the state, when we know the CMA is qualitatively ranked below other museums in the state, why would we not want to fix this obvious problem? Why should we be content with mediocrity? Why not break with the flawed logic and conservativism of the crony capitalist system and reinvent the rules of the game? That would be radical change and a real social innovation.
Conventional ideas bring conventional results, whereas extraordinary ideas can change the world. If Columbus wants to reinvent itself culturally as a state-of-the-art metropolis, a Creative Class hub, we need more from the development of the Scioto Peninsula, the last major acreage of undeveloped city-owned downtown real estate, than a conventional development model. We need something innovative, something radical, something to get the attention of the world. It is inconceivable conventional thinking can achieve this extraordinary task. That’s the job for a new “HUB” Stadium smART Complex to achieve.
As we have already witnessed with the development of the Wexner Center for the Arts, a new art center has the capacity to attract and maintain the attention of Cultural Creatives post OSU. We can state with absolute certainty that without OSU’s Wexner Center for the Arts the cultural status of Columbus would be severely diminished; and that this diminished cultural capacity would negatively affect our city’s cultural image and limit Creative Class growth potential. We can surmise from this Wexner Center example that, if a city lacks a significant art-based infrastructure, Cultural Creatives are more prone to leave that city after college; and that this reciprocal exchange between the arts with Cultural Creatives post-college is why cities that lack a noticeable arts-based infrastructure lose their creative talent to other more reputable Creative Class hubs. Simply stated, Cultural Creatives, being creative, enjoy the arts.
So the question is not whether or not the city of Columbus needs to build a new art museum. We know we do. We know a city the size of Columbus cannot promote itself as the “Indie Art Capital of the World,” a new Creative Class hub, when it has the smallest art museum of all the major cities in the state; we know riding piggyback to the success of OSU’s contemporary art center in an effort to deflect attention away from the Columbus Museum of Art’s relative lack of distinction is not an answer to our cultural image problem but an example of why it persists; and we know what to expect if the CMA does undergo an extreme makeover, since we have seen what such an extreme makeover did for COSI, the Convention Center and OSU. Without a doubt, Columbus needs a new art museum, a new art center, a new Creative Class hub. The only question left for us to answer is how to prevent the crony capitalist system from destroying this civic mandate by developing the Scioto Peninsula into another traditional housing and retail district? What can we do, in other words, to save the “HUB?”