Arts, Culture, and Planning

Arts and culture are among the elements that make the spaces and places in which we spend our lives dynamic and vibrant. The practice of urban planning is multidimensional and impacts many domains in life, including the physical (built environment), the physiological (human/individual), and the social/psychological (human interactions). Similarly, the arts and culture sector's fields of practice engage each of these domains.

This section of the Toolkit provides a broad understanding of arts and culture planning, policy, and programming approaches that are infusing innovation and creativity into the practice of urban planning. It highlights some of the concepts and approaches that are quickly becoming a part of planners' lexicon.


Historical Context

Innovations in arts, culture, and planning can be traced back to U.S. traditions and movements that emerged during the late 19th and early 20st centuries. In fact, the origins of the practice of public art, also referred to as civic art, had its origins in the same trends and movements that led to the birth of modern city planning.

In the earlier part of the 19th century, rapid and unregulated development spurred citizen-driven and public sector initiatives in the arenas of municipal art, civic improvement, and outdoor/public art. Some of these initiatives were bottom-up, citizen driven initiatives whereas others were backed by wealthy elites.

Municipal arts movements focused on architectural and public art amenities in public spaces like murals, sculptures, and fountains as a response to perceptions of urban decay. Many public art commissions were established as part of municipal urban planning initiatives surrounding the production of the World's Fairs, which took place in major American cities. Commissions created during this "City Beautiful" movement generated public funding for cultural facilities and innovative architecture for public buildings, which planner Charles Mulford Robinson called "civic art" [which] exists not for its own sake, but mainly for the good of the community. Civic improvement initiatives focused on small-scale beautification efforts on a block-by-block, lot-by-lot basis and led to the creation of entities like the National League of Improvement Associations, which was later renamed the American League for Civic Improvement. City planner Charles Mulford Robinson reported in 1906 that over 2,400 improvement societies had emerged in the U.S. Robinson also authored a book on the topic, Modern Civic Art, which made the case for organizing small-scale improvements into general plans.