Spaces to Places

Transforming Public Spaces into Vibrant Places for the Community.

Finding a Site to Transform

If you are thinking about a creating a placemaking project in your community but are not sure of where to find a space to transform, here are some ideas.

You probably should not tackle this by yourself.  Find other folks in your neighborhood, or a community organization, and partner with them on a placemaking project.  Your group may then want to use maps to identify the best spots for a placemaking activity. Follow this with a walk around the neighborhood to identify vacant lots, underutilized sites or unmaintained green spaces.

And don’t forget to think about the importance of selecting a space that is accessible to the whole community.  One that is available at all times and can be reached by bike, foot, or transit -- in addition to a car. Remember: even if you build it, they may not come if they can’t get there.

You can then determine as a group what space you would like to tackle first based on the challenges you encounter and resources available.

Once you identify a space, your group can also decide what is needed in the way of amenities to create a “sense of place” as the site is transformed.  This could include seating, artwork, kiosks, a place for activities, flowers and more.

A logical space to start with is that eyesore you and others in the community notice but where nothing gets done to make it better.  Many of these spaces may have become neglected over time. Can you think of such a site, or sites, in your community?  I am sure you can come up with at least one spot.  Take a look at how one REALTOR® pitched in to transform an eyesore in her neighborhood to a lively dog park:  Neighborhood Eyesore to Gathering Place for Pooches and People.

Vacant lots are ideal spaces to transform into vibrant gathering spots for the community. These lots are full of possibilities, since they’re essentially blank canvasses on which to design your project.

The Akron Cleveland Association of REALTORS® used the grant to partner with the East Akron Neighborhood Development Corporation, which transforms communities to be safe, vibrant, economically secure, and self-sustaining.  Together they are transforming a vacant lot into the Minson plaza which will include seating, artwork a stage and games. It is now the home to a local farmer’s market. See Bring Life to Vacant Spaces.

You may also want to take a look at unused or underutilized sites in your neighborhood, such as land between buildings, alleyways, or even parking spaces.

The City of Greenville, along with the local business owners’ association, targeted a blocked dead-end street to transform into a place where residents could gather; business could use for outdoor events; and the neighborhood could have a focal point and centerpiece to build around.  See Using Placemaking to Jump Start Downtown Revitalization.

And what about turning parking spaces into people places?  Parking spaces make perfect locations for downtown spots where people can sit, relax, read, check email, have a coffee, meet a friend and even play and have fun. See How to Create a Parklet and Another Push for Parklets.

Has a building been torn down in your community leaving a void in the block that makes the downtown feel unwelcomed and unsafe?  How about turning it into a pocket park. The Northwest Oklahoma Association of REALTORS® partnered with Main Street Enid to do just that and in turn created a great space for the community to gather and hold events. See Northwest Oklahoma Association of Realtors® Pocket Park project.

Then there are some sites where you probably would never consider to transform into a community destination.  They are ugly and unappealing.  They also may they serve as areas for crime or other illicit activities. Where could these spaces be?  Look under.  Spaces under overpasses and freeways usually can’t be used for anything else and many cities are now realizing the potential of these dead spaces.  And in urban areas where available land is limited or not available, these spaces are particularly full of potential. See Transforming Dead Spaces Under Freeways to Vibrant Destinations.

For less urban areas, there may be open and green spaces that are not used to their potential.  These could be great sites for gardens, trails and parks.  The Greater Fairfield Board of REALTORS®, along with its partners, created a sustainable and educational pocket park on unused vacant lot in the Town of Fairfield, CT.  See Vacant Lot to an Educational Oasis.  Also see REALTORS® Bring an Island its First Park where local REALTORS® built a pocket park on a parcel of land on a small island where there was no place for the community to gather.

Another site to consider is an abandoned railroad track which can be transformed into a trail. Many towns have abandoned former railroad corridors that now are unused.   These corridors present great opportunities for many uses, such as walking, bicycling, inline skating, cross-country skiing, and equestrian and wheelchair use. Rail-trails are extremely popular for both transportation and recreation.  See Transform an Unused Railroad Corridor into a Lively Trail.

And what about waterfronts? Are there any waterfronts in your community? Reclaiming public space along water such as a shoreline, canal, lake or stream could be a high priority in a community. “If green open space is good, waterfront open space is gold,” notes James P. Batchelor of Arrowstreet. But you’ll need to put additional planning and thought into these spaces to manage the risk of rising waters and storm surges.  See Taking Back our Waterfronts and Focus on the Water!

So, have you thought of any spaces in your neighborhood that you would like to tackle first?


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.