Spaces to Places

Transforming Public Spaces into Vibrant Places for the Community.

Fall 2017: So What Exactly is Placemaking?

It's been 3 years since the first postings in Spaces to Places.   As more and more people are hearing about placemaking, I think it's a great time for a re-post from 2014 that defines placemaking.   So have another look and start thinking about transforming a space in your community like the one below.

Before After Alley

Have you ever been in a great public space where it just felt good to be there and where you would go back again and again?  This is Placemaking!

Planners, citizens, public officials, organizations and “placemakers” define Placemaking in many ways since there really is no standard way to define Placemaking.   But one of the simplest ways to think of Placemaking is as a way of creating great places.

Along the GAP Trail
Along the GAP Trail

Great places are easy to get to, safe, clean and attractive.  They are full of fun activities.  They are friendly places where people want to be.  Great places also act as drivers of economic development, are a source of community pride, and enrich the quality of our lives.

“If you start with the idea that you focus on place, you can turn that to your advantage and realize that every building, every bench, every tree has an opportunity for helping to create place.”

—Fred Kent, Project for Public Places

Placemaking is a way of transforming an uninviting or unused space into a vibrant place for the whole community to gather and return again and again.   Think of a place in your community that you avoid or never visit because it may not be safe, no one else goes there or it’s been neglected.   Now think about cleaning up the space and adding amenities like seating and landscaping.  Now you have Placemaking.

Placemaking can also be thought of as a method to identify, plan, design and manage public spaces with the intention of creating places that promote people's happiness, well-being and community engagement.

The Project for Public Spaces (PPS) defines Placemaking as a transformative approach that inspires people to create and improve their public places.  They see it as a movement that reimagines public spaces as the heart of every community, in every city.  PPS views Placemaking as “both an overarching idea and a hands-on tool for improving a neighborhood, city or region. It has the potential to be one of the most transformative ideas of this century.”

Placemaking Chicago looks at Placemaking as looking at, listening to, and asking questions of the people who live, work and play in a particular space, to discover needs and aspirations.  Then, this information is then used to create a common vision for that place which can start with small-scale, do-able improvements that can immediately bring benefits to public spaces and the people who use them.

We also really like the idea of the “Power of Ten”, another concept from PPS, to define Placemaking. In the “Power of Ten”, PPS proposes that any great place needs to offer at least 10 things to do or 10 reasons to be there. This could include places to sit, playgrounds to enjoy, art to touch, music to hear, food to eat, history to experience, and people to meet.

PPS Place Diagram
PPS Place Diagram

PPS expands on this concept to go on to state that “it’s not enough to have just one great place in a neighborhood-- you need a number of them to create a truly lively city or town.  It’s not enough to have only one superior neighborhood in a city-- you need to provide people all over town with close-to-home opportunities to take pleasure in public life.  And, it’s not enough to have one livable city or town in a region-- you need a collection of interesting communities.”

If you’re still trying to figure this all out, how about this:  are there any vacant lots, neglected parks and waterfronts,  dilapidated blocks, overgrown trails, unused parking lots, underused green spaces in your community?   What if some folks in your community, like you, got together to determine how to revitalize that space into a place where children would play; events could be held; workers could eat lunch; senior citizens can relax; students can read; and residents could smell the flowers.   This is Placemaking.

The Porch at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, PA
The Porch at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, PA

Take a look at how some of our Realtor Associations transformed spaces in their communities with the help of NAR's Placemaking grant.


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.