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Do murals impact a city's economics, quality of life? UC researchers are about to find out

Scaffolding is in a parking lot at Central Parkway and Walnut, overlooking a mural lit up for Blink in 2022.
Bill Rinehart
Scaffolding for a Blink illumination was set up days ahead of the four-night festival.

Ever wonder how all those murals around town affect the areas they're in? Researchers at the University of Cincinnati are finding out.

College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning Assistant Professor of Urban Design Hyesun Jeong will lead a study funded by the National Endowment for the Arts on that question. It's a continuation of research Jeong has done on the subject and will focus on Cincinnati and four other major cities.

Jeong says there isn't a lot of data about the connection between murals, economics and quality of life.

"I think that art has been overlooked in research," she says. "Coming from an architecture background, we tend to just neglect the impact of art and focus more on the buildings and forms."

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Jeong's research uses aggregated cell phone location data, Census data and a number of other sources to look at pedestrian density, crime and economic activity in areas around murals. She's focusing not only on Cincinnati — where she's using Over-the-Rhine as a case study — but also Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Portland, Ore.

Local officials have touted the impact of large arts events like four-day mural and light festival BLINK. Organizers say the event drew an estimated 2 million people and created $126 million in economic impact in 2022.

But Jeong's work looks more at the everyday impact murals have in their neighborhoods. Her hypothesis is that public art like murals and sculptures increase the number of people out and about in neighborhoods and also help buttress economic activity in the areas around them.

She says she already has some preliminary findings about areas with sanctioned, legal public artwork and their relationship with economic activity.

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"They have 30 percent more foot traffic than the city average," she says. "And when the mural is surrounded by a certain type and certain number of commercial amenities — especially food-serving amenities like restaurants, bars and coffee shops — foot traffic becomes five times bigger."

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