Spaces to Places

Transforming Public Spaces into Vibrant Places for the Community.

Bring Life to Vacant Spaces

If you’ve been keeping up with the posts to date, you’ve probably thought of at least one space in your community that would be a good candidate for Placemaking. But if you still can’t identify a space, take a second look at vacant lots and properties.

Why can’t they be transformed into people-friendly places?

Vacant spaces and lots provide a blank canvas to create community gathering spots for cultural activities, gardening, playing, conversations, live music, storytelling, relaxing, art displays and much more. Vacant lots can be elevated from ugly eyesores to desirable destinations.

The community-based group Demoiselle 2 Femme worked with teenage girls in their Roseland neighborhood of Chicago’s south side to transform a vacant lot in into a safe place for children to play. The project even motivated residents and local groups to clean up adjacent public spaces. This demonstrates how one project could lead to more Placemaking activities in a community and keep the trend going.

Vacant lot to playground in Roseland, Chicago, IL.  Courtesy of Demoiselle 2 Femme.
Vacant lot to playground in Roseland, Chicago, IL. Courtesy of Demoiselle 2 Femme.















You may want to encourage the engagement of a variety of groups to initiate a Placemaking project by organizing a competition. Space in Between is a contest organized by the Metropolitan Planning Council to recognize individuals who have converted vacant parking lots into community gardens or art exhibitions in the greater Chicago/Gary/Milwaukee region.

Vacant lots can also be temporarily activated until a permanent development is in place. Gap Filler, an organization based in Christchurch, New Zealand creates temporary activations of vacant lots with Dance-O-Mat, a coin-operated dance floor that allows anyone to plug in their own music device and start a public dance party or performance.

Plans are underway for Frankford Pause, a pop-up park, to be built on a vacant lot in Philadelphia, PA.  “In the short term, we’re designing a public space for people to come and use, to get an idea of what works and doesn’t work… what people like,” says Kim Washington with the Frankford CDC.

And, an easy, quick approach being taken by many cities to activate areas in need of revitalization involves food trucks. “If you want to seed a place with activity, put out food,” William Whyte wrote in The social life of small urban spaces.  More and more cities are allowing food trucks to do business in struggling districts of the community as a way to enliven an area.

Truckeroo, Navy Yard, Washington, DC.

Truckeroo, Navy Yard, Washington, DC.

Artists can also take advantage of vacant lots by transforming vacant and underused properties into hubs of activity and prosperity. In St. Paul, the Minnesota Blue Ox artist group came up with a novel idea to transform a 15-acre plot of land on the former Schmidt Brewery into a mini-golf park that also functions as an urban park.

Certain cities are experiencing skyrocketing real estate prices, which can pose a challenge to the creation of public space. In Mexico City, Under Bridges (“Bajo Puentes”), a project created by city planners, transforms vacant, trash-strewn lots beneath freeways into thriving public plazas, outdoor cafes and playgrounds.

Mexico City's Bajo Puentes Program Turns Vacant Lots Under Freeways into Prized Public Spaces.  Photo courtesy of
Mexico City's Bajo Puentes Program Turns Vacant Lots Under Freeways into Prized Public Spaces. Photo courtesy of

In our own REALTOR® Community, the Sumter Board of REALTORS®, with the support of NAR’s Placemaking Micro-grant, has plans to transform a vacant lot into a courtyard with a fountain, flowers and seating.

There are plenty of resources to get your started and keep you motivated.   Philip Winn, with the Project for Public Spaces (PPS) points to New York’s 596 Acres which is “a great hub and resource for ideas about inventive uses for vacant property, and for actively engaging communities in the process.”   The Center for Community Progress has lots of information on how to turn vacant, abandoned and problem properties into vibrant places.

It’s time for you to transform that eyesore into a vibrant place for your community to gather.


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.

Comment Policy

The opinions expressed in reader comments sections on this website are those of the reader and not NAR or REALTOR® Magazine.

Smart Growth

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