Revitalizing NYC from the Neighborhood Up

"Understanding NOCDs can provide a framework to recognize and support a more inclusive, equitable vision of a neighborhood’s culture”

Revitalizing NYC from the Neighborhood Up

“Understanding NOCDs can provide a framework to recognize and support a more inclusive, equitable vision of a neighborhood’s culture”

On Thursday, COAHSI was proud to be in attendance at a special summer breakfast at the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center (GMDC), where the newly formed NOCD-NY Working Group officially announced that they have just received a Rockefeller Foundation NYC Cultural Innovation Fund grant to support their work to enhance practice and shape policy.
But what, you may ask, is a NOCD?
The acronym NOCD is a play on NORC, an acronym coined in 1986 that stands for a Naturally Occuring Retirement Community. The abridged definition of NORC is “a place (a building, a development, a neighborhood) with a sizeable senior community that wasn’t purpose-built as a senior community.” Similar only in its inclination to cluster, arts and cultural activity stands at the root of the new-fangled acronym. NOCD stands for a Naturally Occurring Cultural (or Arts) District.
So what makes a cultural district “naturally occur” and how does NOCD-NY differentiate between institutional arts districts and naturally occurring ones?
In an interview conducted by Urban Omnibus, Tamara Greenfield of Fourth Arts Block and co-director of the NOCD- NY Working group, explains that a NOCD “supports existing neighborhood cultural assets rather than imposing arts institutions somewhere new. Traditional cultural districts are often used as a promotional tool to import visitors to a downtown shopping or commercial district and are generally centered on large institutions. The difference is important because each idea represents a distinct set of public values about what’s important to cities and what’s worth supporting. Understanding NOCDs can provide a framework to recognize and support a more inclusive, equitable vision of a neighborhood’s culture.”
Caron Atlas, co-director of the NOCD-NY Working Group and a cultural organizer with the Arts + Community Change Initiative, adds, “Another important reason to make the distinction is that institutional arts districts are often more visible, whereas naturally occurring ones are more rooted in the neighborhood fabric and might therefore be invisible to those outside the neighborhood. If a cultural district has emerged “naturally,” then it grows from, builds on and validates existing community assets rather than importing assets from outside a community.”
On August 12, 2010, Greenfield and Atlas convened with other arts leaders, policymakers, funders, and researchers for a cross-sector roundtable discussion on “Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts” (NOCDs), co-sponsored by the Arts + Community Change Initiative and Fourth Arts Block and hosted by The J.M. Kaplan Fund.
Highlighting exemplary practices from across New York City, this forum aimed to develop policy recommendations and implementation strategies to support these districts. The conversation was grounded in values of equity, inclusion and recognition of the integral role of arts and culture in communities.

They published a full report from this forum, which parallels a lot of the research presented in the Plan for St. George Sustainable Cultural District, conducted by the CUNY Hunter College Department of Urban Affairs and Planning last fall.
Proposed next- steps for the NOCD-NY include:
1. Strengthening practice for participating NOCDS through peer mentoring, while providing technical assistance and support for newly organizing hubs and coalitions.
2. Working with researchers, including the Social Impact of the Arts Project, to link research, practice, and evaluation.
3. Producing reports, case studies, and roundtables that promote public discourse on NOCDs and their value to communities.
4. Meeting with public and private partners to identify appropriate policy, funding, and financing opportunities and help move them into action through collective advocacy.
5. Building a broader alliance to further this work.
COAHSI looks forward to supporting and learning from this exciting, new group, drawing on city-wide collective creativity to revitalize and effect arts policy and practice in New York City from the neighborhood up.
Check out their report and let us know what you think!

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