Spaces to Places

Transforming Public Spaces into Vibrant Places for the Community.

Ring in 2021 by Planning a New Destination in Your Neighborhood

A new year is upon us and it’s time to think about creating new outdoor public spaces and destinations in your community, especially in light of COVID-19 as living outdoors has become a necessity as restrictions and public safety concerns have limited, or banned, indoor activities. Now is the time to start making plans to provide welcoming, fun outdoor places, including places to gather in the coming winter months.  See Placemaking During a COVID-19 Winter.

After months of staying home, communities are witnessing an unprecedented demand from residents for places to walk, hike, relax, and simply get out of the house.  Parks and trails, which help to improve both our physical and mental health, have provided some lucky residents with a place to escape during the pandemic.  But many communities do not have access to open and green spaces.

Does your community provide access to open spaces for everyone in the community?  If not, it’s time to make a plan to change that. See Public Spaces Are Even More Important in Our New Normal.

Does your neighborhood have a heart, a center, where everyone could meet, enjoy, and gather?  If not, maybe it’s time to create one.  The Project for Public Spaces (PPS) looks at placemaking as inspiring people to collectively reimagine and reinvent public spaces as the heart of every community.

As you embark on your project, NAR is here to help with funding. NAR’s Placemaking and Smart Growth grants are available to our state and local REALTOR® Associations to partner with others in their communities to build better communities whether that be to create new public spaces or to advocate for public policies that impact the built environment.

The Placemaking Grant funds the creation of new public spaces and destinations. Think pocket parks, trails, gardens, plazas, dog parks, play areas, and alley activations. It could also be used to implement some of the ideas from a community input session that was funded by the Smart Growth Grant which funds the engagement in local land-use/transportation policy issues.

There are a variety of projects to become engaged in and some of our REALTOR® Associations have set great examples to follow.

Using NAR’s Placemaking Grant and funding from the St. Louis REALTORS® Foundation, the St. Louis REALTORS® (MO) transformed a vacant piece of land within the St. Louis Greater Ville neighborhood into a community park. REALTORS® lent a helping hand to help assemble new benches, plant flowers and shrubs, construct wooden privacy fences and much more. The new park is now completed and includes urban gardens, flower boxes and handicap accessible walk ways and is a perfect welcoming destination for the whole community. St. Louis City Community Park: A celebration of a special neighborhood and the REALTOR® spirit.

Or how about buying the land on which to build a project. That’s just what a REALTOR® did. When she bought her home, she also purchased an empty lot next door with the vision to transform it into a garden everyone could use. That space is now a place for the whole community to enjoy as they can come visit and relax in the garden. Read how this came about and how REALTORS® from MIBOR (IN) pitched in to help plant trees, spread mulch, tend to the grow beds, build a tool shed, and help set up an urban chicken coop.  How a REALTOR® is Helping to Change a Neighborhood in Indianapolis.

Volunteers planting a garden

And sometimes you may need to take a boat to help a community out. The Coastal Association of REALTORS® (MD) helped build an island’s only park on a vacant, abandoned lot currently owned by the local fire department. REALTORS® and association staff members traveled to Smith Island by boat, which lies in the Chesapeake Bay, to set up picnic tables, benches, a bicycle rack, trash receptacles, and landscaping that can stand up to sometimes rough island conditions. The project served to greatly extend the REALTORS® outreach and overall goals as the association of providing opportunities for members to give back to their communities. REALTORS® Bring an Island its First Park.

Two images: People on the deck of a boat heading for a dock, and volunteers planting trees in a garden

Photos courtesy: The Coastal Association of REALTORS® (MD)

There are more of these great stories, as well as other placemaking project ideas, on this blog. So, check them out.

And don’t forget about the Smart Growth Grant which can be used to set the stage for what a community wants and how it grows and develops. This can include organizing a workshop to make a community more walkable; sponsoring a charrette to get community input for large-scale projects; coordinating a downtown assessment to identify and address a community’s assets and challenges; and planning a Better Block event to imagine what could be in a downtown.

For example, the Maine Association of REALTORS® used a Smart Growth Action Grant to sponsor a three-day charrette, in which all stakeholders had an opportunity to contribute ideas for a new downtown development. During a “Listening Session”, residents expressed their support for the creation of public green spaces and greenways and one design option included plans for a bike trail and park.

Landscaping plan drawing

And in Miami, the Miami REALTORS® came across an abandoned building with a blank wall overlooking an overgrown green space that seemed ripe with potential.  They decided to organize a Better Block to help visualize what that space could be turned into.  The project was the new ‘MKTPlace at Goombay Plaza’ which showcased Bahamian food, reggae music, dancing, and a dramatic light show and now every Saturday, local vendors now have a place to sell their wares and perpetuate the beloved local Bahamian culture. The Goombay Plaza project, a great success, raised critical awareness that REALTORS® care, and are very involved in the growth of their communities.

People setting up tents and places to sit in front of a mural

So, I hope you are getting inspired to create a new gathering space in your community in 2021.


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.