Building a Creative Economy Community

Norwalk, CT

Contact Name
Jackie Lightfield
Project Dates
January - October 2013
Policy, Technology, Real Estate, Design, Marketing, Workforce Development
This is the story of how to build a creative economy, economic development, arts organization that exists solely to transform a dying urban area into a cool downtown. Although we are still very much a startup, and operate on a shoestring budget, Norwalk 2.0 is result of years of community activism and engagement with residents, political leaders, businesses and the arts in collaborative projects. Our goal was simple. We wanted a vibrant and flourishing downtown, and in order to get there we needed to transform our public space, our public policies and build a community.
Project Goals
What were the project goals?
The project goals were to make Norwalk cool. To reduce vacant storefront visibility, to increase the awareness that there was a significant creative economy population in Norwalk, and to increase the interest of residents and policy makers that creative events sustained economic growth.

Have they changed over time?
The success of small projects have increased interest and support in our efforts. Our relationship with the City of Norwalk, the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency and property owners has been a model of how to effect change in public policy to encourage creative economy projects.
Who are the project partners and stakeholders?
Norwalk 2.0 partners with the City of Norwalk, the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency, the Norwalk Public Library, the Norwalk Historical Society, the Norwalk Preservation Trust and many local businesses and property owners.
Project Specifics
How was the project implemented? What were the steps taken?
Since 2008, the founders of Norwalk 2.0 have witnessed the powerful role that community-based
public engagement can play in uplifting downtown communities. From our origins as leaders of a
small city commission committed to reintroducing art in public spaces, Norwalk 2.0 has emerged
into a dynamic civic engagement, tourism, workforce development, and neighborhood revitalization
organization. We have created many events and projects in Norwalk, inviting neighbors, community
organizations and businesses to collaborate with our artists in the design and creation of each project
in order to build a vibrant and flourishing downtown.
Today, as Norwalk’s leading community development initiative, Norwalk 2.0 increasingly takes a
leadership role in leveraging creative economy programs to galvanize positive economic change.
While our ultimate goal is creating a vibrant downtown, we know that this is a long process
with many smaller steps and synergistic projects. A major step is the development of a business
improvement district consisting of property owners, business owners and residents of the district
who collectively fund and participate in developing a sustainable and vibrant downtown. In the
meantime, we continue to create innovative projects that engage a wide variety of stakeholders in the
revitalization of Norwalk’s downtown areas.
Have they been refined over time?
As each project or event completes we review what worked and what didn't in order to create a more sustainable project. We are happy that many of the vacant storefronts we have transformed have become fully leased, and continue to refine our projects to adapt to the changing market.
What were your major obstacles?
As an independent startup non-profit, funding our vision was a huge obstacle. We didn't fit neatly into a box, and had a pretty big goal as our mission. Overtime, as we created projects that raised our visibility we adopted the tools of a traditional startup and worked hard at engaging financial support from our community in a sustainable grassroots way.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
Being nimble and public in our engagement.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
Three must-do suggestions to launch your own version: Leverage free and online technology tools to manage contacts, finances and communication. Engage political leaders and staff right from the start when dealing with permits. Be transparent, share the successes and the failures.
Project Impact
How has this project contributed to creative community building?
Norwalk 2.0 has become the go-to leader in how to build communities. Not only have we gained support from all areas of government and business, but often these same agencies turn to us for advice on how to build their community outreach programs.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
In addition to seeing vacant storefronts become leased, Norwalk 2.0 continues to play an active role in urban planning and public policy. Developers seek us out for our zoning, creative economy and community building expertise.
Were there unexpected impacts?
At first we thought getting real estate developers to give us space was going to be the most difficult aspect. But as time proved our model was successful, that process has become easier. We have adapted our programs to create pop up events in occupied spaces, simply to keep the momentum going and continuing to build our creative community.

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