Spaces to Places

Transforming Public Spaces into Vibrant Places for the Community.

Add the Bling to Enhance your Place

Don’t forget the bells and whistles when planning a new gathering space in your community. Amenities not only provide user comfort and functionality but can also add fun, identity, style and character to a project.

The Project for Public Spaces introduced the “Power of Ten” which argues that places thrive when users have a range of reasons (10+) to be there. These might include a place to sit, games to play, art to touch, music to hear, food to eat, history to experience, and people to meet. Ideally, some of these activities will be unique to that particular place, reflecting the culture and history of the surrounding community.

Adding a variety of amenities fulfills the Power of Ten goal.  Most amenities are usually benches, kiosks, and murals but there are a lot of other more unique ideas out there as well as ways to make these types of amenities pop and stand out.

Some are quite whimsical and fun. For example, Downtown Decorations provides a variety of lightweight and durable fiberglass giant flowers, umbrellas, butterflies and bumble bees for use in public spaces. They suggest to combine motifs to create excitement and draw traffic to your site.

Colorful fiberglass decorative giant flowers lit up at night on a deck facing a body of water

Photo courtesy of Downtown Decorations

Wood benches painted with historical themes

Photo Courtesy of Kankakee-Iroquois-Ford Association of REALTORS®

And why have plain benches that look like any other bench. The Kankakee-Iroquois-Ford Association of REALTORS® used an NAR Placemaking Grant to build and design benches for their local Farmer’s Market in downtown Kankakee. Local high school students built 10 benches and local artists designed and painted the benches with historical themes.

Many public spaces also take advantage of landscaping and plantings to add some natural ambiance. Again, be creative.  In Boston, the St. James Avenue garden features multi-dimensional G-O2 Living Walls that draws you into the space.  These “green” walls provide a buffer between the office tower and the park.  The 4-sided columns are especially unique and create very stunning focal points for the park. Plant Connection built the walls and the park was designed by Copley Wolff.

Tall rectangular concrete blocks covered with vegetation at the St. James Avenue Garden in Boston

Photo courtesy of CWDG and Photographer, Luke O’Neill.

Interactive art is, well, a great way to get folks to interact within a public space in a very fun way. Cloud Gate, aka “the Bean”, located in Chicago’s Millennium Park, provides a distorted reflection of the city and offers an opportunity for visitors to capture their own reflection. What fun!

Cloud Gate, aka “the Bean”, located in Chicago’s Millennium Park

Photo Courtesty of Holly Moskerintz

Lighting can not only provide the opportunity to create a pleasant and safe environment but one that encourages pedestrian activity at night and adds to the aesthetics. In Citygarden in St. Louis, three fountains are interspersed throughout the park combining with sculpture and lush plant life to create a unique visitor experience. At night, the spray plaza offers up entertainment of a different sort - a water and light show where LED lights around each jet remain on for an enchanting illuminated display.

Citygarden, St. Louis: water and light show where LED lights around each jet remain on for an enchanting illuminated display

Photo credit Kevin A. Roberts/Courtesy of Citygarden

Water features are always a favorite. Romare Bearden Park is an iconic destination for locals and tourists in Uptown Charlotte, NC. Throughout the 5.4 acre signature park are opportunities for creative playfulness, including a dedicated area for children, called the Children’s Muse, which features a whimsical splashpad and interactive art forms.

Romare Bearden Park in Charlotte, NC featuring a whimsical splashpad and interactive art forms

Photo courtesy of LandDesign

And don’t forget about sound. Interactive instruments provide an opportunity for children of all ages and abilities to bring out their creative expression.  They enhance group play and can foster a sense of belonging in a public space. Percussion Play is on manufacturer of  outdoor musical instruments. They want their instruments to add harmony, soul and energy to inclusive and accessible outdoor play environments across the world.

children playing percussion instruments in a park

Photo courtesy of Percussion Play

One of the easiest amenities to add is Little Free Libraries, which are not only fun but also functional by inspiring a love of reading.  Through Little Free Libraries, millions of books are exchanged each year, increasing access to books for readers of all ages and backgrounds.  Take a look at the Little Free Library at the historic Lynchburg Community Market in Lynchburg, VA.   Lynchburg also has Little Free Libraries at the entrance to the Blackwater Creek Trail and at Riverside Park.

Note: As I write this post, I am seeing that Little Free Libraries are now being used to stock food, not books, as neighbors try to help others in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Little Free Library located at the historic Lynchburg Community Market in Lynchburg, VA

Image by LuAnn Hunt from Pixabay

And, why not combine art and function. In Washington, DC’s central business district, the Golden Triangle BID has installed six artistic bike racks, which not only meets the demands of parking but does so in a in a fun and creative way. The first artistic bike rack, “Bike Here”, spans 13 feet, holds ten bikes and adds a splash of color and vitality to the Dupont Circle Metro station’s south entrance. The “Clip Art” bike rack on Pennsylvania Avenue accommodates six bikes and brightens up the business district with a playful take on a standard office supply. Both “Clip Art” and “Bike Here” designs were solicited through a call to artists and selected by a panel of representatives from the District government, the Golden Triangle community, and local artists and biking organizations.

Golden Triangle BID's artistic bike racks in Washington, D.C. featuring the representation of colorful paperclips used as bike r

Photo courtesy of Golden Triangle BID

Spring is upon us and it’s time for you to get inspired.  If you are just getting started on a project, you may want to team up with a local artist which can be a great way to not only expose up and coming talent in your community but also create a unique amenity that will be fun and creative for everyone to enjoy.


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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Smart Growth

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