Steps to Get Started

For REALTOR® associations, a Placemaking initiative can be like a Habitat for Humanity project, which many of you participate in, except that REALTORS® will help create a place, instead of a house, in their community. Your association can take the lead in a project or partner with other organizations to plan and organize a Placemaking activity or activities in your community.

Placemaking projects can range from small, simple projects like a community garden or walking tour (see projects from the Michigan Association of REALTORS®’ Lighter Quicker Cheaper Challenge) to large, complex projects like development of waterfront parks or transit-oriented developments (see example of the Atlanta Commercial Board of REALTORS®’ Placemaking initiative in the Placemaking in Action section). Either way, REALTOR® associations and REALTORS® can play a role in helping to enhance their neighborhoods and making them more desirable places to live.

For small projects, such as a Lighter Quicker Cheaper project, you may want to take the lead and identify a space to improve, i.e., a public space around your office, or form a task force of local stakeholders and residents to target a place to enhance and transform.

For larger projects, you may want to participate in community and planning meetings or become a member of the planning committee or board governing a large development project. Also, for larger projects, you may want to participate in advocacy efforts, such as supporting zoning regulations or funding measures, to enable the project to move forward.

Whatever you choose, here are some steps to consider as you begin to plan a Placemaking project:

Identify a Place and Partners

You may want to start your Placemaking initiative with a review of the 11 Principles of Placemaking developed by the Project for Public Spaces. One of the most important principles is that you can’t do it alone: creating a good public space requires partners to contribute ideas, financial and political support and planning.

Potential partners could include your city’s public officials and agencies, art, cultural, faith-based and civic organizations, chambers of commerce, rotary clubs, developers, schools and youth groups (think volunteers), institutions, museums, local businesses, neighborhood associations, business improvement districts (BIDs) and others.

The first step is to identify a neighborhood and/or space to target. You may know of a place or you may want to ask your members and/or partners for suggestions. Is there a long neglected park that is in need of renovations and repairs? Is there an area downtown where people no longer go and store fronts are vacant? What about a vacant lot that could be turned into an ideal place for local residents to gather?

Regardless of the spot you pick, don’t forget to include the local neighborhood residents and stakeholders in your planning and implementation activities. They are the experts, as they are the people who live and work in the community. Local stakeholders and community residents have an understanding of the area and can offer a historical perspective. You want to create a sense of community ownership, and to do so, you will need to get the participation of the community.

You may want to select several places, and have a competition among members to make the best place in their community. You can select a group from your partners to judge the places and perhaps give the place that wins an extra contribution to make it even better. This would be a good way to attract the involvement of your members and the communities they serve.

See Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Assess public space challenges

Step 2: Select a site

Step 3: Identify key stakeholders

Analyze the Site and Visualize a Plan

Once an area has been identified, you’ll need to decide how to make it a place where people will want to gather and return again and again.

To encourage the participation of residents and the local neighborhood, you might want to organize a workshop to introduce Placemaking and to get input from the community. The Southeast Community Development Corporation (Baltimore, Maryland) held a workshop to discuss improvements to a place considered as the “hub” of its Main Street district. The workshop included non-profit organizations, residents, merchants, and students and resulted in ten short-term (i.e., paint a bike lane, install a community chalkboard) and ten long term (i.e., install a water feature, connect all four corners with an art project) goals.

You will have to get the word out about the workshop. Along with social media (websites, email, Twitter, Facebook, etc.), you can create and distribute flyers. See examples from the West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission and the Center City Development Office in San Antonio, Texas.

For larger projects, the Project for Public Spaces (PPS) offers customized workshops to help communities develop improvement agendas that encourage collaboration and provide a head start toward positive change.

PPS also uses several tools to assist with its Placemaking initiatives. One exercise they use in their workshops is to visualize what the place can become, simply by spending time in the area and observing how people use the space (or don’t use it) and asking them what they like or don’t like about the space.

To help with this exercise, PPS created the “Place Game” which involves looking at, listening to, and asking questions of the people who live, work and play in a particular space. Participants start to see the good and bad qualities of a place and start to come up with ideas of how to make the area a better place. The information from this exercise first leads to determining how a place can be improved, and then can be used to create a common vision for that place.

This can be a great activity to do as part of a member meeting. You can divide your members into groups and have each group look at a different section of the space and indicate what needs improvement and what could be done to improve the space and make it a better, more desirable place.

Note: The ‘Place Game’ is copyrighted by PPS and cannot be used without formal, written permission from PPS.

Whether the Placemaking project is small (a neighborhood park) or large (a city plaza), the Project for Public Spaces (PPS) outlines four key attributes that make a place great:

  • Accessible: the place is accessible and well-connected to other places in the neighborhood
  • Comfortable: the place offers comfort, safety, and looks inviting
  • Activities: people can participate in activities in the place
  • Sociable: people want to gather, meet neighbors, and come back

Another tool created by PPS is the Place Diagram, which was described earlier, and can be used to help determine what makes a great place. You might want to see how many of the qualities outlined in the Place Diagram you can incorporate into the vision for your place.

In addition, the Better Block project encourages addressing four areas when developing a Better Block; these can be applied to other places, as well:

  • Safety — Make sure the place is safe; a key to improving a place is addressing its perceived safety.
  • Shared Access — Look at ways to bring more people into the area by various modes of transportation.
  • Stay Power — Discuss features that will encourage people to visit the place, linger, invite their friends, and return.
  • 8–80 Amenities — Include amenities that would encourage people of all ages(8–80 years of age) to feel welcomed.

One particular amenity worth considering that makes just about any place a desirable gathering spot is seating. Turning a public space into a better place may include options such as moveable seating, benches, sitwalls and ledges (see A Primer on Seating).

N .B . Don’t forget to take “before” and “after” photos! You can use them when you publicize your new place and to show others what they can do in their communities.

See Step-by-Step Guide

Step 4: Collect data

Step 5: Conduct place evaluation workshop

Step 6: Translate ideas into action with a working group

Step 7: Develop a visual concept plan

Step 8: Create a summary report and presentation

Tools: Project for Public Spaces’ “Place Game,” and a listing of Placemaking projects that may inspire you in the Tools and Resources section

Implement and Fund the Project

Once you have identified and analyzed a site, you should now have a vision, an idea, or a set of ideas of how to create a place on the site. Now it’s time for the most important step: turning your plan/vision into action.

Short-term goals will be the easiest to implement. They don’t require much funding and can energize participants for future activities.

Remember that when creating goals, you should include a timetable, how and by whom the goals are to be accomplished, and how much money each goal will cost to implement.

You will need to develop a budget and find ways to fund your plan. This is another reason to partner with others in your community. You may want to see if each partner can make a donation to the project. Local businesses may want to contribute since the project would, in turn, benefit them by enhancing the area around their businesses and encourage more foot traffic.

You may want to consider having a fundraiser to assist with the funding of your Placemaking project. If you have a local school or youth group involved, whose students or members can volunteer with the activities associated with your project, they may also want to have their own fundraiser to raise money for the project.

Your partners may know of other funding sources, including grants administered by local and state arts councils, non-profit organizations, and government agencies. This is another benefit of working with partners.

Yet another idea is crowdsourcing. As defined by Mashable, crowdfunding (alternately crowd financing, equity crowdfunding, or hyper funding) describes the collective effort of individuals who network and pool their resources, usually via the Internet, to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations.

GoFundMe is one web-based approach to fundraise online via a crowdfunding website. Crowdfunding can be an effective way to fund local community projects because you can target those with a vested interest in the community. See Crowdfunding For Community Projects.

See Step-by-Step Guide

Step 9: Implement short-term actions

Resource: NAR’s Smart Growth Grants support a wide range of land-use related activities including Placemaking.

Celebrate and Promote

Once you have created a great place, you and your team, should be proud of your work. You need to get the word out about your great place and present the fruits of your labor to members of the community and public officials.

You may want to contact the local media to see if they would like to do a story on the project. Don’t forget to give them the before photos you took so they, too, can see what a great job you did.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony or grand opening event is a great way to get the community and stakeholders to gather at the place and congratulate those who participated in the project. Be sure to invite members of the media, local chamber members, community organizations, VIPs, etc. Inviting local public officials and celebrities may encourage more people to attend. For additional ideas, see “10 tips for a successful ribbon cutting,” from giving people plenty of notice, to creating brochures with information about the project — yet another place to use those before and after photos.

Monitor and Evaluate

After you have created a place in your community, you should continue to monitor it and see how, how often, and by whom, it is being used. Evaluating the space should be an ongoing process to ensure the place gets better and is able to continue to serve the needs of the community. Continued observation of your place will help you see how to evolve and manage it in years to come.

You should have a plan in place to maintain the place and make enhancements. A management plan will help to keep your place safe, clean and lively. Resources may be needed to maintain a place; your partnerships with others in the community can be a source of funding for maintenance and upkeep.

For example, community gardens require careful planning, maintenance and ongoing support to be managed successfully, according to Eileen Horn, sustainability coordinator for Douglas County and the city of Lawrence, Kansas. In 2012, Eileen helped the City of Lawrence to create the Common Ground Program, a community gardening and urban agriculture program, to transform vacant or under-utilized city properties into vibrant sites of healthy food production for its citizens.

You may want to watch the surrounding area to see if any other projects or developments spring up. This will show how your project spurred other community and economic development in the surrounding area.

See Step-by-Step Guide

Step 10: Develop long-term design and management plans

Step 11: Assess results and replicate