Boston in Massachusetts is breathing new life into many of its old areas. One of the most successful is the former manufacturing and warehouse district in South End, whose name SoWa (South of Washington) was first used by the developer and GTI Properties president Mario Nicosia. This area is being revitalised with an arts-led renaissance – perhaps the “a” in SoWa could also mean arts?
This district of Boston straddles Harrison Avenue which provides a spine to the developing new district. Fortunately, many of the massive old brick buildings have survived, giving the area its identity, including the shell of former West End Street Railway Central Power Station at 540 Harrison Avenue, and modern architectural interventions have reinforced the robust character of the old buildings. The area even has a yellow-brick Bostonian copy of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.
SoWa is now a buzzing area of apartments, studios, galleries, restaurants and creative businesses. One of its great successes is that it has ensured that artists are not priced out of the area as it improves; there is enough space to provide basic warehouse-style studios as well as commercial art galleries, restaurants, offices and residential apartments. It is a model for other similar urban regeneration areas, where all too often property values chase away the very artists that give an area its original unique edge, such as in Hoxton in London or Chelsea in New York. At SoWa, this is reinforced by activities including First Fridays, where SoWa’s community of artists open their studios to the public on the first Friday of every month and Sundays in SoWa – an open air market which grows in size every year and attracts vendors from all over New England to the The SoWa Open Market, the SoWa Vintage Market, SoWa Food Truck Court and the SoWa Farmers Market.
The New York Times reports: “The city’s art scene has shifted to Harrison from Newbury Street, says Bernard Toale, whose Toale Gallery has been at 450 Harrison since 1992. “The art and the clientele in the South End is younger and funkier,” he says. “First Fridays are big happening scenes, with a younger, urban, new South End crowd. I’ve been around a long time, but I’d say the South End is made up of a lot of younger galleries showing newer artists, and not just local artists.”
While much has been done, there are still many buildings awaiting or undergoing redevelopment. SoWa is a great exemplar of how to use art and culture to regenerate an area and ensure that the original essence is maintained by maintaining the availability of economical studios as property values rise, supported with events and open days that attract visitors to the area providing economic benefits for all the businesses there.