Why Cities Should Invest in Festivals

From their potential to promote branding to the partnerships they create, festivals further both cultural and economic development in numerous cities.

Summer weekends around the U.S. are replete with music festivals. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find plenty more unique events to attend – including festivals that celebrate Shakespeare, kites, film and art, Halloween, food trucks, agriculture, beer and more.

Cities are investing in festivals, for good reason.

When done right, festivals promote a city’s brand, increase tourism, foster the arts and community involvement and increase revenues for the municipality and local businesses. They can even revitalize a city and spur sponsorships.

Branding and Tourism

According to the National Research Center, Loveland, Colo., uses its annual Fire and Ice Festival to grow the brand of “America’s Sweetheart City.” The event, featuring a downtown snow sculpture and fireworks, coincides with Valentine’s Day and attracted 24,000 people in 2016, making it one of the largest events on its kind in the nation.

Each September, Loveland also puts on “Pastels on 5th,” a sidewalk chalk-art festival that highlights Loveland’s internationally renowned arts community.

Both events raise Loveland’s profile “in the most beneficial ways possible,” City Manager Bill Cahill said in an interview with the National Research Council, Inc.

Community Involvement

Chandler, Ariz., hosts a variety of events: There’s an Ostrich Festival, a Cinco de Mayo Celebration with Chihuahua races, a Tumbleweed Festival, jazz and Greek festivals and more.

These events, according to Chandler’s website, “showcase our people, our heritage, and our values … and strengthen community bonds.”

Even the small town of Forest City, Iowa, is getting into the festivals game.

The inaugural Tree Town Music Festival took place Memorial Day Weekend in 2014 after six years of planning by a private group. This festival bills itself as the “Midwest’s premiere country music destination festival,” and offers camping and glamping.

Profits, Revitalization & Sponsorships

While some festivals provide a financial bump for local businesses, others help to drive the economies of the region in which they are located.

The Sundance Film Festival generated almost $63 million in 2015, according to a study from the University of Utah. An estimated 46,100 filmgoers spent on car rental, lodging, dining, transportation and retail, according to the study.

In Providence, R.I., WaterFire is the big fish.

The unique festival features around a hundred metal, flaming braziers set into the middle of a downtown river that fire tenders, dressed in black, fill with wood and keep alight from small boats. Attendees stroll, take gondola rides or dine al fresco at restaurants that border the river while listening to instrumental music coming from speakers hidden along the tributary.

The non-profit WaterFire is credited with helping to pull Providence out of its economic decline, which began in the 1930s.

The immensely popular festival, founded in 1994, has been called the “crown jewel of the Providence renaissance.” Hotels and high-end condos, which have since been built around the rerouted river, use WaterFire images for promotion. Rooms and tables with a view are reserved months in advance.

WaterFire attracts 1.1 million people to downtown Providence each season, has an annual impact of $114.3 million from visitor spending and creates 1,294 jobs, according to the organization.

There are 13 Waterfire events scheduled for 2016, each with a different national sponsor, such as Bank of America, National Grid, Waste Management and CVS.

In fact, sponsorship of festivals is up around the country.

According to a recent study from IEG Sponsorship Report, sponsorship spending on fairs, festivals and annual events is expected to total $878 million in 2016, a 2.1 percent increase from 2015.

Public Private Partnerships

Many festivals employ the use of existing public space and don’t require new construction to run. This makes them nimble and able to “switch venues and change up programming if necessary,” according to Jonathan Wynn, associate professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, author of Music/City: American Festivals and Placemaking in Austin, Nashville and Newport.

There is a cheaper, more equitable path toward creating culturally vibrant cities, one that requires less public funding and much less steel and glass,” Wynn wrote in a recent opinion piece promoting investments in festivals over museums in the Des Moines Register.

In his research, Wynn found that the most successful U.S. festivals are created organically through public-private partnerships.

“Festivals are really successful when they are generated by a subcultural infrastructure of alt-weekly magazines and music venues, then winning support of [convention and visitors bureaus], chambers and city halls,” he said.

How Cities are Reacting to Backyard Chickens

Local government leaders are finding both support and opposition for keeping backyard chickens as part of a larger urban agricultural movement.

Around the country, people are getting back to their roots – literally – by maintaining farms or hobby farms at their residences, part of a growing urban agriculture movement that includes keeping backyard chickens.

Backyard farmers reap the health benefits of the pursuit, such as better nutrition and improved mental and physical health. In some cities, their products can be sold at markets.

But for those who want to keep chickens legally at home-based farms, “toil” often begins before yards are prepared, as there are many hoops through which to jump when keeping livestock. Many towns and cities have their own agricultural ordinances, which they are updating to support a growing aviculturist movement. Municipal lawmakers in other cities are finding flocks of opposition.

Enterprising Birds

In 2012, Somerville, Mass., was the first city in the state to pass an urban agriculture ordinance that “establishes formal guidelines for urban farming and gardening, the keeping of chickens and bees and other policies governing the growth and sale of agricultural products in an urban setting,” according to the city’s website.

“Somerville is small, progressive minded city,” said Khrysti Smyth, a former resident who helped write the ordinance. “It was an easy city to work with.”

Smyth had a vested interest in the ordinance — she keeps chickens — and since 2012, she has helped to write a half dozen more ordinances around the Boston area. She is known as “The Chickeness,” and through Yardbirds Backyard Chickens she promotes raising chickens and offers classes and seminars. She also has an academic background in wildlife ecology and works for the Trustees of Reservations as an operations manager in The Kitchen at the Boston Public Market, where Boston-area urban farmers have opportunities to sell backyard farm products.

Lawyers.com provides a primer on the legal issues one may encounter when growing or raising food at home. The website recommends researching local zoning laws and ordinances, development standards and building codes, private property restrictions and permits and licenses required, especially if small farm animals are involved.

For farmers who want to sell backyard bounties, there are other legal restrictions to consider. According to the website hobbyfarms.com, budding entrepreneurs should work within their state’s legal framework as well as follow local laws, like a 2014 Boston ordinance that created the framework for a transactional urban agriculture system.

Balancing Acts

More and more cities are coming around to supporting residential farming, keeping backyard chickens and addressing resident complaints in the process.

In 2016, the board of health in Columbus, Ohio, “approved new regulations and permit fees for barnyard animals in the city after revising them to address concerns of urban farmers raising chickens and other animals,” according to The Columbus Dispatch.

The city decided to update the rules as the popularity of backyard farming continued to grow. The city responded to 140 complaints of chickens and other animals in 2014 compared to 30 in 2010.”

After an eight-month push, the city of Edgewater, Colo., passed a 2016 ordinance allowing backyard chickens, goats and beehives, according to the Denver Post.

“Before the city council passed the new ordinance … in a 4-2 vote, Edgewater residents were in a state of legal limbo over keeping farm animals in backyards. City regulations didn’t technically allow for the raising of livestock — the animals weren’t even mentioned in the code book.”

In January, supervisors in Sacramento County, Calif., unanimously passed an agricultural ordinance allowing urban and suburban residents who legally grow and sell crops, keep bees and raise chickens and ducks at home.

“Proponents say the new legal framework will make life easier for small-scale farmers and provide fresh food in areas that lack full-service grocery stores,” according to the Sacramento Bee.

This week, the Fargo, N.D. City Council passed an ordinance, allowing homeowners up to four backyard chickens.

Larger cities, like Los AngelesPortland, Ore., and Pittsburg, Pa., have posted progressive urban agricultural policies online.

Chicken Fights

Some cities are conversely fighting the trend, such as Glendale, Ariz. The city council “scratched plans to allow more homeowners to raise chickens after an outpouring of public criticism — and support — for the backyard birds caused what one council member called ‘a polite civil war’ across the city,” according to the Arizona Republic.

Last month, the board of health in Appleton, Wisc., — while raising concerns about health and the permitting process — split the vote on a proposal that would allow residents to raise backyard chickens. Because no majority was reached, it went to the city council with a recommendation for denial. On April 6th, the proposal stalled at the Appleton City Council meeting, and the item will be discussed at the next meeting later this month.

While one resident touted the “ethical protein” backyard chickens provide, Alderperson Cathy Spears wasn’t convinced.

“My constituents overwhelmingly called me and told me they didn’t want chickens,” according to local news WSAU.

“I also studied public health for many years,” she continued, “and being interested in public health, I know there have been a lot of outbreaks because of chickens and backyard chickens.”

In Virginia Beach, Va., one unidentified resident is running afoul of the law while keeping chickens even though it is illegal to do so.

“I want to be doing this legally,” he told the Virginian Pilot. “Like I have a generator for hurricanes, I want to be able to provide eggs for my family if there’s an emergency and stores are closed.”

Virginia Beach allows chickens only on land zoned for agricultural use — usually sprawling farmland in the southern part of the city below a boundary drawn to protect rural qualities. The rule dates back to at least 1985.

But that could change if Councilwoman Jessica Abbott has her way. Elected to the Virginia Beach City Council last November after campaigning on the issue, Abbott said she supported legalizing backyard chickens before she decided to run for office.

“Abbott conducted an online survey asking if the city should consider changing the ordinance to allow hens — not roosters — in certain residential areas. She got 1,687 responses, mainly from residents in Bayside, Kempsville and Princess Anne, and 93 percent were in favor,” the Pilot reported.