Spaces to Places

Transforming Public Spaces into Vibrant Places for the Community.

Idaho Smart Growth partnered with the Project for Public Spaces (PPS) and the Ada County Association of Realtors® (ACAR) on Placemaking in Downtown in an effort to create a game plan around shared vision for what downtown Meridian could become.    Participants included the Meridian Development Corporation, Arts and Culture Council, Downtown Business Association (DBA), business owners, library, food bank, Chamber of Commerce, COMPASS representatives, Valley Regional Transit Representatives, citizens & city staff.

During a two-day planning process, city staff was briefed on Placemaking;  one on one interviews were conducted;  and participants were led on a walkabout of the focus areas, engaged in a Placemapping exercise and conducted Place Audits.  All of this led to the creation of an Action Plan.

Participants Engaged in Placemapping

Participants discussed their vision for downtown Meridian and the following was observed:

  • City Hall Plaza is underutilized as a public space and is disconnected from the rest of downtown
  • Downtown needs more places to sit and hang outside
  • Need to bring more millennials downtown
  • Downtown needs more night life
  • Need more places to go downtown
  • Need places to display art and culture
  • Improve opportunities to show art
  • Promote free Wi-Fi
  • Bring the library back downtown
  • Businesses are supportive of events as long as they don’t block access to their businesses
  • Downtown has some strong assets, but they are spread out and disconnected from one another by parking lots, streets and other factor

Fourteen sites were identified for potential Lighter Quicker Cheaper (LQC) Placemaking activities. Each site analysis included a team leader, team players and potential activities.  Here are a few of those sites and ideas as to what can be done at each of them.

What Makes a Great Place
What Makes a Great Place

City Hall Plaza

City Hall Plaza is an underutilized public space and is disconnected the rest of downtown.  There are currently some programed activities here however it was felt by all the plaza should be used more.

  • Downtown needs more places hang outside
  • Need to find a way to bring millennials downtown
  • Downtown needs more night life activities

 Potential activities discussed included:

  • Chairs, tables and umbrellas in the plaza
  • Introduce food vendors
  • Planters with flowers for color
  • Periodic social events:  Live After Five , book readings, open mikes,  CableOne Movie Nights

Parking lot between City Hall and Main Street

The parking lot creates a visual and physical barrier between City Hall and the Plaza and the rest of downtown. Long-term plans are to move the parking behind City Hall.  This plan proposes Lighter Quicker Cheaper (LQC) actions to tie City Hall and its plaza back to the activity on the street and invite people into the plaza.

Potential activities discussed included:

  • Remove a handful of parking spaces at the corner of Main and Broadway to incorporate and utilize the small open space that faces out to downtown
  • Create a public space to be programmed by MAC, Library, etc.
  • Food truck with table, chairs and umbrellas

Parking lot and alley between Bank of Cascades, MDC buildings and Treasure Valley Children’s Theater

This property is public property and as such has significant potential for LQC activities. There has been some effort to create a public space in the alley next to the children’s theater.

Potential activities discussed included:

  • Create public space to be programmed by MAC, Library, etc.
  • Tie in Activity Nights programmed at City Hall Plaza
  • Seating and tables
  • Install Wi-Fi
  • Food, coffee vendors (small scale—perhaps by existing local eateries)
  • Fruit and vegetable stand

Generations Plaza

Generations Plaza is viewed by many as the center of downtown and the strongest place to connect with the DBA and downtown businesses. It already has some level of activity around the fountain during the summer months and a tree during the holiday season but, as at City Hall Plaza, there is little casual daily use.

Place Audit at Generations Plaza
Place Audit at Generations Plaza

  • Programming by DBA, library, Children’s Theater to enhance daily use and activity
  • Use the grassy side area as a natural little outdoor theater and place for story hours
  • Create connection between Flatbread’s outdoor seating and activities on the plaza
  • More seating and colorful umbrellas that can move around
  • “Cover use” for the very large utility box: chalk painting, tic-tac-toe, magnetic word wall, painted-on board games
  • Site needs more shade to be comfortable in the summer
  • Lunch deliveries from nearby restaurants

To read about the rest of the sites, see the Action Plan for Lighter Quicker Cheaper approaches for the City of Meridian, Idaho.

So, do you think your downtown could benefit from a planning process to identify and analyze sites to come up with ideas to make downtown a destination and encourage more people to go there?   If so, your Realtor® Association may want to apply for NAR’s Smart Growth grant to help with the planning process.


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

The healthier a community, the better the environment for REALTORS®. Keeping a community attractive, livable and functioning well is a complex task.