Spaces to Places

Transforming Public Spaces into Vibrant Places for the Community.

2015: The Year in Placemaking

As we begin a new year, I thought it would be interesting to reflect back on placemaking in 2015.    But why reinvent the wheel.    So I am re-posting a blog post by Ethan Kent,Senior Vice President at Project for Public Spaces.

Note that NAR participated in the White House Convening on Rural Placemaking, Placemaking Leadership Council, Placemaking Funders Forum  and also gave a presentation to the Main Street State Coordinators at their meeting in Washington, DC.

Reprint of Project for Public Spaces blog post on

Our true destiny…is a world built from the bottom up by competent citizens living in solid communities, engaged in and by their places. David W. Orr.

The Plaza at Harvard | Photo by PPS

Our fortieth year at Project for Public Spaces was an exciting one, and it took us all over the world, from the public markets of Barcelona to Stockholm’s City Hall. For some time, placemaking was a strong but “quiet movement.” But after the year we just had, we think it’s safe to say that the secret is out.

This year marked the first in our five-year partnership with the prestigious Brookings Institution, with whom we launched the Bass Initiative for Innovation and Placemaking – a program that will have a great impact on how we understand and shape innovation in places around the world. We will continue our intensive research into 2016 as we build a toolkit for districts to audit their assets, issues, and opportunities in terms of innovation and quality of place.

Due to the steadfast work of participants and scholars at our Future of Places conference series (with UN-Habitat and Ax:son Johnson), place and placemaking will take center stage in the post-2015 Urban Agenda, with the successful adoption of Goal 11 – known as the “city goal” – in the final document. This goal calls for “sustainable, inclusive, safe and resilient cities and human settlements,” and its inclusion marks “a milestone in the history of the United Nations,” explained Raf Tuts, UN-Habitat’s head of urban planning and design.

In 2015 PPS also hosted the hugely successful 9th International Public Markets Conference in Barcelona (see the resulting Declaration, and watch our video here). Then, November brought the perfect culmination of an eventful year, as PPS, along with our partners National Main Street Center, organized and attended the White House Convening on Rural Placemaking. That’s right: Placemaking in the White House! No longer a “quiet movement,” Placemaking has become a global and resounding cause.


The Honorable Xavier Trias, Mayor of Barcelona, at the 9th International Public Markets Conference | Photo by PPS

More than ever, communities are taking charge and showing an increasing demand for placemaking resources and partnerships. Our Placemaking Leadership Council (PLC) surpassed 1000 members this year, and we hosted the second Placemaking Funders Forum in Brooklyn, gathering diverse organizations to discuss the intersection of placemaking and philanthropy. PPS’s 2015 in-house trainings were completely sold out, while we also led and facilitated over 50 placemaking workshops and trainings in cities across the globe, from Milwaukee and Malaysia to Jerusalem and Jakarta.

To accommodate this demand, we’ve also worked to expand our resources on the PPS website: We’ve added an updated “Great Public Spaces” section, which celebrates some of the most successful and memorable places in our readers’ lives, and we’ve launched robust resource pages devoted to “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper” strategies as well as the “Streets as Places” agenda. Each of these pages offers an ever-expanding list of principles, case studies, and best practices to inspire users to create and support exciting projects in their own communities.

By bringing the transformative power of Placemaking to cities across the United States, our partner Southwest Airlines continues to help raise awareness of Placemaking as an important social cause. The Heart of the Community Program collaborated on six transformative projects this year, and we look forward to the next round of projects, to be revealed early in 2016. We’re also excited to announce that, beginning in January 2016, Southwest Airlines will be featuring a different Heart of the Community article every month in Southwest Magazine to highlight these Placemaking efforts. Look for it in the seat-back pocket next time you fly!

And finally, our founder and president Fred Kent was honored this year with the Dan Sweat Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award by the International Downtown Association, (see Neal Peirce’s article here) as well as the 2015 Investors in America award, which he received in October from the Washington DC-based Partners for Livable Communities. (He was also forcibly evicted from a public hearing, but that’s another story…) 

There’s more in store for 2016:

  • The Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place 19 conference in Vancouver, BC, this September will bring together a diverse and international audience of city planners, transportation engineers, public health professionals, elected officials, community leaders, and professional walking and bicycling advocates.
  • Based on our popular “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper” resource page, we are creating a new webpage to serve as a hub for case studies and best practices in Arts-Based Placemaking. We are currently compiling a database of case studies and research, and the page will soon develop into a robust toolkit for aspiring or practicing Creative Placemakers across the globe. Stay tuned!

As ever, Project for Public Spaces is committed to changing the way people shape their communities and the public spaces they share, and we have been inspired by the impressive forward motion of the Placemaking movement this year. At its core, Placemaking is a community effort, driven by individual actions and investments of all kinds. Here are a few ways you can get involved now:

  1. Make a donation to Project for Public Spaces and support our work advancing placemaking around the world, or join our Catalyst Circle to make a sustained commitment to our work.
  2. Become a sponsor for one of our important 2015 conferences and meetings, like the Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place Meeting in Vancouver, BC.
  3. Work with us on a project in your community. Contact us to discuss our services and experience on all kinds of Placemaking projects.
  4. Attend one of our trainings in New York and watch our website for other upcoming events.
  5. Apply to join the Placemaking Leadership Council, and join over 1000 passionate advocates for place.
  6. Subscribe to our mailing list and receive our monthly newsletter.
  7. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.

Happy New Year, placemakers, and here’s to another 40 years!

Smores and smartphones at The Spot 4MKE Milestone Celebration, October 29, 2015 | Photo by PPS

Smores and smartphones at The Spot 4MKE Milestone Celebration, October 29, 2015 | Photo by PPS


Community Outreach Programs

Housing Opportunity Grant
Housing Opportunity Grants support state and local REALTOR® Associations’ affordable housing activities. The goal of the program is to position REALTORS® as leaders in improving their communities by creating affordable housing

Smart Growth Grant
Smart growth is an approach to development that encourages a mix of building types and uses, diverse housing and transportation options, development within existing neighborhoods, and community engagement. The Smart Growth Program offers state and local REALTOR® Associations to way to engage with government officials, community partners and the general public in planning and designing community’s future.

Planned diversity initiatives makes good business sense. REALTOR® Associations with well-planned diversity programs create a stronger sense of community, particularly in neighborhoods with high concentrations of foreign-born and minority residents who are moving up the socioeconomic ladder and are buying homes.

NAR Placemaking Resources

Placemaking Guide: A Guide to Transform a Public Space into a Community Place
REALTORS® and state and local association staff can learn the details of Placemaking, the kinds of projects placemaking entails, how to organize them, and where to go for assistance and resources.

Placemaking Webinar Series
Our Placemaking Webinar Series will provide more in depth information on the various types of Placemaking and how REALTORS® were involved in Placemaking activities in their communities.

Placemaking Grant
The Placemaking Grant funds the creation of new public spaces, like pocket parks, trails & gardens, in a community. The grant focuses on “lighter, cheaper, quicker” placemaking projects, which can be built under a year and cost less  than $200,000.

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