If your city has a neighborhood that suffers from urban blight – high rates of poverty, crime and substance abuse, abandoned storefronts and deteriorated housing stock, fires and vandalism – the quickest and cheapest way to turn it around is to leverage the natural tendency of working artists to seek out affordable spaces to renovate. Tax incentives and sweat equity mix beautifully to transform rundown industrial lofts into attractive living spaces and studios. Galleries, restaurants, service businesses and enhanced tourism inevitably follow in the artists’ wake, and before long, urban planners’ biggest remaining headache is making sure that local residents don’t get priced out by gentrification.
The City of Kingston has been watching that process burbling away in its Midtown neighborhood. It started out as a haphazard, unorganized thing, with a few artsy pioneers like R & F Handmade Paints, the Shirt Factory and Cornell Street Studios establishing artistic footholds. But momentum has built, and community coalitions have sprung up with the intent and the expertise needed to guide Midtown toward a brighter future for all. A recent milestone was the opening in July 2015 of the Lace Mill at 165 Cornell Street, an apartment, workspace and gallery complex renovated by RUPCO and offering subsidized, below-market rents for artists.