Spaces to Places

Transforming Public Spaces into Vibrant Places for the Community.

My Favorite Types of Places

Placemaking means different things to different people and organizations. There really doesn’t seem to be a consensus or a common definition of it.  As for me, Placemaking is one of those things where when I see it, I know it’s placemaking as it represents a great place for the whole community to gather and enjoy.  And usually those places share some common attributes:

  • Creates a vibrant gathering place for everyone in the community
  • Creates a place that transforms an underutilized, unused, unsafe space into a destination
  • Creates a place you would want to go and take  your friends and families
  • Creates a place that will inspire others in the community to create similar places
  • Creates a place that is “Lighter Quicker Cheaper

Here are some great places and types of successful placemaking that I have come across and really like.

First of all I love parklets.  I love, love, love parklets.  Parklets replace spots for cars with spots for people.   They have become quite popular in cities like San Francisco, Chicago and Seattle but are also popping up in smaller towns and cities to provide a place to sit and relax while shopping or visiting a downtown.  I am still looking for the first Placemaking Micro-grant application for a parklet.  So maybe your REALTOR® Association will be the one.  Here’s one parklet, which they call a People Spot, in Bronzeville (Chicago, IL). Photo: CDOT

I also really like alley activation projects as they are a great example of taking an unused or underutilized space in a downtown and transforming it into a place to enjoy a cup of coffee, eat lunch, meet a friend or to activate with art, food and musical events.  Several REALTOR® Associations are involved in these types of projects and I can’t wait to see the outcomes.   Here is a transformed alley called East Cahuenga Alley, or EaCa Alley, which brings an open space for residents and tourists in L.A.


I also like it when folks think outside of the box and create unique and whimsical places.  Here’s a play place in Chicago where a vacant lot was transformed into a place for residents to play and have fun.  Placemaking Chicago helped out with this project.

We get a lot of applications for community gardens but we like to make sure they are “multi-functional” spaces where everyone in the community can go and enjoy, not just gardeners. The Avers Community Garden in Chicago is not only a place to grow vegetables but serves as an educational space for children and is “a community space and something to take pride in.”

And community gardens can be great places for events for the community.  The Oakland Avenue Urban Farm in Detroit is the home of the “The Harrowing”, a theatrical production that is one of many events held in the city’s largest community garden.  See “Theatre in the Garden”.

Another type of project we get many applications for are playgrounds.  And again we look for “multi-functional” playgrounds that can be enjoyed by the whole community.   But one of my favorite playground projects is one where an unsafe and undesirable vacant lot was transformed into a safe haven for children to play and the community to gather.   Take a look at this vacant lot to playground project in Roseland, Chicago, IL developed by Demoiselle 2 Femme.

In rural areas, sometimes there is no downtown to create a place for the community to gather but what they do have is lots of open space and creating trails is a great way to create a place for the community to meet up, enjoy and spend time at.    In my home town in Jim Thorpe, PA, the Switchback Trail was built to create a year around destination for both residents and tourists.

Seating is a vital element of a successful placemaking project and we encourage every project to include seating so people will have a place to sit, stay and relax.    But seating doesn’t need to be simply benches as there are a variety of seating options available.  Try being creative as illustrated below.   See “Have a Seat and Stay Awhile”.

So as we look toward 2016, we will be taking a look at the Placemaking Micro-grant and encouraging our REALTOR® Associations, and their members, to create more of these types of placemaking projects in their communities.


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.