Sometimes a place exists in a community where it may need some enhancements and improvements to make it more welcoming. This is a trend I am seeing as I review NAR’s Placemaking Micro-grants applications. Project requests have included planting trees along a trail; replacing benches in a park; and funding streetscaping projects.
But…would these projects really create a new place for the community to gather? Not really. They simply may add or replace something in an existing space – and sometimes that something is more along the lines of a maintenance, infrastructure or beautification project, none of which are projects our grants fund.
So, I was thinking how can we have the grant be used to fund the enhancement of existing places but at the same time meet our requirement of creating a sense of place.
That’s when I came up with the idea of creating a (new) place within a (existing) place. So what would this look like?
Let’s take the project that focused on planting several trees along a bike/walking trail. What would that really do? Yes, trees would provide shade and make the trail look nicer but would it make the trail a place where the community to meet and gather? How about, if instead, the project focused on creating a little oasis along the trail where folks could rest, relax, meet, eat a pre-packed snack/lunch, check email, etc.? Would that oasis create more of a sense of place along the trail?
Another project was to replace a couple of benches in a park. First, the benches didn’t really look like they needed replacement. Second, as I was looking at the photos of the space, there looked like there was a lot of potential to create another type of place for the community to enjoy. One idea was to turn the space into a family/play place. Think of what this space might look like if the benches were painted with a whimsical theme, which would provide a seating area for parents, and another amenity was added like an interactive instrument for the kids to play or a Little Free Library. These elements would indeed turn this space into a play area within the park and give residents another reason to visit.
And one last example was an application to develop streetscaping in a 3-block area in the downtown commercial area. Again this project would focus more on maintenance and infrastructure. But what if the little, sad area below was converted into a parklet or mini-park with seating, tables and other amenities where people could stop to drink their coffee or eat the salad they just bought at the local deli/coffee shop. Or perhaps they can meet up with a friend after work, shopping or an exercise class.
Do you see the difference?
So if you are planning a placemaking project within an existing place, think outside of the box and think of a way to create a place within a place.