People react and adapt to an environment, and sometimes, they even seek it out. We often think of them as tourists. Sometimes we see them as retirees.

And increasingly, we look at millennials, many of whom flock to and are even responsible for the rejuvenation of the downtowns of many cities

The Woodward Boulevard spine in Detroit is the haunt of a young, professional, creative class. Good luck in finding an apartment there.

A few weeks back, I wrote about how Avondale, a neighborhood once in decline in Birmingham, Alabama, is now an up-and-coming entertainment district, featuring a craft brewery and a host of upscale restaurants and clubs. I can see why hipsters go there.

Whether it is inside a bar or restaurant or an entire neighborhood, physical spaces can be altered with planning and action, and with that usually comes an emotional response.

With foresight and a bit of a gambling instinct, visionaries know that if you build it and build it right, and market it to the right people at the right time, they will come. Oh yes, people will come, because places can change, and they can change for the better.

Culture in a Three-Light Town

Now I happen to believe that this is not just true in big cities, but can actually take place even in small, rural communities. You just have to have some (not all) of the right pieces in place and the right people (entrepreneurs and visionaries) willing to take the risk and stick it out.

I have been thinking about this of late, as I have been engaged in a SWOT analysis for a small, rural community that has an  underutilized, largely hidden historic downtown. It has very good bones, with brick streets and interestingly-designed buildings from a bygone era.

Then I harken back to Brown County, Indiana, where there are only three intersections with traffic lights, all located in the county seat of Nashville, which has a population about 1,000.

The fact is that Nashville. Ind., which is just up the road from Gnaw Bone, has become a destination, a place where people visit (I was one of them), largely because of one thing – art.

Art, Spirits and Music

Nashville, Ind., has been an art colony since the early 20th century. As a result, this place boasts a thriving tourist industry based on the original works of resident artists.

With the artists have come art galleries, boutiques, antique shops, entertainment venues, bed and breakfasts, inns and 26 restaurants, only three of which are part of restaurant chains.

And further proof that this village is indeed a bastion of civilization is the fact that Bear Wallow Distillery is making handcrafted corn whiskey there and Big Woods Brewing Co., is making small-batch craft beer. See my blog “Beer is the Answer.”

I theorize there is a certain synergy between art, spirits, good food and music, all of which, if used within moderation, can improve our moods and make us a happier bunch.

Add to that mix good access to quality education and healthcare, a business friendly environment with a reasonable regulatory climate and lower taxes, and you have got a very, very good thing going.

Miami Has a Good Thing Going

To say that I know Miami well would be a lie. But I have been there on more than a few occasions, and I have concluded that this city is a welcoming environment to businesses from all over world, which is why they continue to come.

I was there again last week as the guest of Enterprise Florida, attending Art Basel Miami Beach, which is the nucleus of Miami Art Week.

Now art is a very personal thing, one that I will not attempt to explain. If it is good in your eyes, it will elicit a response just as surely as if it is not. We cannot look at art without forming some sort of an opinion, even if it is a “huh?”

Planning is now underway for the Nader Latin American Art Museum, with a 2018 completion deadline. The $50 million project is headed by Gary Nader, a Dominican-Lebanese arts developer. It will be the largest Latin American Museum in the world.

I took the photograph accompanying this blog outside Nader’s Wynwood Gallery. It is a very large sculpture by Fernando Botero of Colombia, and I really liked it.

I am convinced that Miami has become an important city, an exotic, glamorous city, partly because of its appreciation of art. And that is largely due to the public-private partnerships that have come about to make art more available to virtually everyone.

The wine-and-cheese consultant crowd call this “placemaking,” which is probably as good a term as any for it. But being that I am a bit of a contrarian, I will call it “making a place.”

If It Can Happen in Damp Caves

And again, I think this can happen just about anywhere. Heck, it happened with cave paintings in southwestern France more than 17,000 years ago.

And it happened about 100 years ago in Nashville, Indiana, and I reckon it could happen it could happen again in a small town in Texas where I am doing the SWOT analysis.

Neither Nashville, Ind., nor this Texas town have any caves as far as I know. I do not think they need them.

Rather, what they do need is courageous, creative people from public, private, non-profit, and community sectors, who are willing to partner together to shape the physical and social character of their place around the arts and cultural activities.

Making a Place Desirable

I say courageous, because proponents of the new will often meet with resistance and even outright hostility in trying to offer ideas on how to rejuvenate structures and streetscapes, improve local business viability and public safety, and bring diverse people together.

Some folks just do not like change.

Making a place more desirable, physically and socially, provides a platform for entrepreneurs to jump on the bandwagon and generate jobs and income, thereby making a place even more livable and interesting.

Listening to the stories, I get the distinct impression that many areas of Miami today are far more livable today than they were just a few years ago, largely because of the planning and working done by public-private partnerships.

Which means government and businesses had to share the risks together to get certain big transformative projects done. I don’t think that is a bad model from which to work.

From Inauspicious Roots

Miami was officially incorporated in 1896 with a population of just over 300. Nashville, Ind., probably had more people back then as its 1900 census showed a population of 393.

But by 1920, Miami’s population had swelled to 29,549 people. Still, it was still considerably smaller than Montgomery, Ala., and Columbus, Ga.

Today the Miami metropolitan area is the eighth-most populous in the United States, with about 5.5 million people. The city is a leader in international finance, commerce, culture, media, entertainment, the arts, and trade.

Miami has been described as the Gateway to Latin America. Certainly being a strategically-located seaport city has helped, and the recently completed PortMiami deep dredge project,  deepening the port’s main harbor channel from 42 feet to a depth of 52 feet will only further the notion that Miami is and will be for the foreseeable future the hub of the Americas. That is not a bad thing.

More Than Cuban Americans

Miami also an incredibly diverse place. It would be a mistake to think of this city as solely a place populated by Cuban-Americans. In fact, as there are large segments from all over Latin America, including Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Nicaragua, Honduras, Colombia and Venezuela.

African-Americans comprise about 20 percent of the population, with a substantial number having come from Caribbean countries, such as Haiti, Jamaica, and the Bahamas.

Europe, too, has played a prominent role in the development of Miami. All of the larger EU countries maintain diplomatic and trade legations in Miami, and many European banking, finance, insurance and other firms maintain regional headquarters there.

Young Professionals Downtown

Recently, Miami has seen a portion of the population return to its downtown urban area.

The central business district saw the largest population growth between 2010 and 2014, at 38.7 percent. While the Brickell neighborhood, which holds the greatest concentration of international banks in the U.S., now represents 40 percent of downtown’s population.

Developers are building more than 3,200 rental apartments in downtown Miami, with about 1,000 expected to hit the market next year, according to the Miami Downtown Development Authority.

About 27,000 units have been, but many will likely not be built as some developers reconfigure their plans to align with changing market dynamics.

In its 2014 report, the Authority said among the downtown Miami population, 46 percent were between the ages of 25 and 44. So Miami is not just a place where old people retire. And again, it’s not just a place of Cuban-Americans.

The Celebs Were There

For three days last week, the Miami Beach Convention Center was the scene for 267 art galleries from 32 countries, offering international collectors and spectators alike the best of what their artists had to offer.

I heard Alex Rodriguez, Leonardo DiCaprio, Lenny Kravitz and Sly Stallone were there looking around, but I never saw them, which is just as well. I would never have approached them, because, well, I just wouldn’t.

But I did find most of the art approachable, and I did enjoy looking at it, even if I could not afford it. But that’s fine.

I don’t have to buy something to enjoy it, which is why placemaking, or “making a place” as I shall call it, is an intriguing notion, for big cities like Miami and small villages like Nashville, Ind., both of which have largely succeeded at it.

Art is a pretty important component of it making a place work. That’s because we need it. We just do.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dean Barber is the president/CEO of Barber Business Advisors, LLC, a location advisory and economic development consulting firm based in Dallas.  If you liked what you read here, invite Dean to speak at your next meeting. He can be reached at or at 972-767-9518.