Urban Living and the Necessity of the Arts

American cities are thriving in ways unimaginable a generation ago. Once the places people wanted to flee, cities are now where more and more families and individuals want to live, work and play. Interesting architecture, historic brownstones, shorter commutes between work and home, all serve to increase the allure of city living between Live-Work-Play.

Often overlooked though in city development is the need to foster vibrant arts opportunities for our residents. In coping with many of the issues we face, urban mayors spend much time focusing on the live and work part of growing their cities, but the play portion is similarly important, especially when it comes to the arts.

That's why in Jersey City we are committing public dollars with ample support from area developers to complete renovation of a grand 3000-seat theater and provide residents with a world class arts venue. Built as one of five Loew's Wonder Theatres in the 1920s, this venue has regional potential beyond the city. By bringing in two companies - one, a leading design firm to rebuild the theater to its former grandeur and the second, one of the world's largest concert promoters to book popular entertainers, we are helping complete the live, work, play equation in Jersey City. We have also emphasized the need for local arts programming for the young and older alike and a local university will be managing this end of the theater. Once re-opened, the Loew's will serve its neighborhood, the city at large, and the region as well.

New York City's great mayor, Fiorello LaGuardia, believed that art was a concern of government and should provide as many opportunities as possible for all city residents, especially those less well-off, to experience the joy of taking in concerts, shows and exhibits. Of course, he was right, though in tough budgetary times this emphasis has too often been lost.

Not only will the newly renovated Loew's spur further development in the neighborhood, but just as important, it also will serve as an arts hub focused on broad community programming for the entire city, one of the most diverse in the nation.

As American cities enjoy a renaissance, spending on arts must not be overlooked. No doubt, it can be hard to justify when public safety and education demand increasing public investment. But without attention being paid to the arts, cities will suffer in the long run.

Steven Fulop is Mayor of Jersey City, NJ.