Spaces to Places

Transforming Public Spaces into Vibrant Places for the Community.

Using Placemaking to Build Community Resilience

It’s time to re-think how to achieve community resilience.

“Improving resilience is about much more than just reducing disaster-related risk. Community resilience needs to address not just environmental factors, but quality of life and economic prosperity…This holistic view is helping communities think beyond catastrophes and evolve into thriving places with more potential and promise than before.”  Sarene Marshall, executive director of ULI’s Center for Sustainability.

So why not address community resilience in the context of placemaking where the community would also benefit by gaining a new destination, green or public space to visit and enjoy.

It is likely that weather-related disasters will occur more frequently and in greater severity in the future. Whether cities are motivated by the threat of future storms or the need to maintain a tighter budget, Placemaking should be considered as another strategy to create resilient cities. Placemaking works to build and nurture a relationship between people and their environment.

More and more cities are citing the need to contend with the effects of extreme weather and changing rainfall patterns.  But building more walls and berms only serves to cut of a community and people from places and environments along a coastline.  The focus should be to repurpose and adapt design criteria that not only provides resilience but also creates places that are welcoming and inviting for people such as parks, promenades, boulevards, and terraces

Rather than relying on concrete walls to keep water out, projects can be designed to handle flooding without damage and to allow stormwater to drain easily and quickly.  There is now more awareness of creating public spaces that can also help to better manage stormwater. José Almiñana, a Principal with Andropogon Associates reiterates this: “We need to produce public spaces to actually be able to absorb all kinds of events and become more resilient.”

As an example, the idea behind Shoemaker Green, a new park at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, was to create a “large bathtub” to capture and recycle the stormwater and HVAC runoff from the surrounding buildings.  Shoemaker Green not only offers an open space of lawns, tree-lined walkways, and sitting areas but will also improve water quality and minimize runoff, reduce the effect of the urban heat island by greening large paved areas, restore biomass on site, increase local biodiversity, and improve the overall environment for the community.


In San Antonio, plans are underway to develop Hemisfare, the city’s old fairgrounds and site of the 1968 World’s Fair, not only includes having it become an oasis of activities, amenities, and destinations centered on a series of parks but also features to conserve and protect the local aquifer and connect to the city’s famed River Walk.  Plans call for a graded site that will collect water, channel it and connect it to the River Walk.


The Bradenton Riverwalk in Florida created a riverfront promenade that includes two dozen works of public art, a playground, fishing pier, botanical walk and skate park.   But, it also incorporates a new bioswale treatment system to filter stormwater before it reaches the river.


And, in Long Island City, NY Hunter’s Point South Park is a 10-acre park which includes a playground, dog run and an urban beach but was designed to handle storm surges.  A “rail garden” with native grasses, chosen for their ability to survive exposure to saltwater, and flowers marks the path of the rail line that once ran along the river.  The park, even before completion, successfully shed floodwaters when Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012.


The BIG U proposal was developed to protect Lower Manhattan from floodwater, storms, and other impacts of a changing climate. The BIG U calls for a protective system around the low-lying topography of Manhattan beginning at West 57th Street, going down to The Battery, and then back up to East 42nd Street. A proposed Bridging Berm will both protect the area from storm surges and rising sea levels, and offer waterfront access for relaxation, socializing, and enjoying river vistas by providing pleasant, accessible routes over the highway into the park. Additionally, salt-tolerant trees and plants will provide a resilient urban habitat.


The future of resilient cities depends on residents, and their investment in, and involvement with, the places in which they live.  And, efforts need to include making residents aware of the damages natural events have on our shared built and natural environments.

The winning concept of the Memorials for the Future ideas competition, sponsored by the National Park Service and the National Capital Planning Commission, was Climate Chronograph.  The competition sought to reimagine the way we develop and experience memorials in Washington, DC, and inspire new memorial approaches around the country.

The proposed memorial project, for a site at Hains Point in Washington, DC, is to be a public record of rising sea levels and a living observatory for an indeterminate emergent process. While memorials conventionally commemorate a moment in the past, this initially traditional-looking memorial offers a reimagined landscape and a living observatory that allows people to interact with the space as it evolves unpredictably over time. Interpretive signage would illustrate the site’s history, the memorial’s concept, and the slow successionary processes at work.  The advancing water’s edge becomes a fecund place for exploration, observation, and learning.   Not only would this project create a new destination but it would also educate and inspire those who visit it.


Several REALTOR® Associations are incorporating resilience into their placemaking projects.   The Greater Fairfield Board of REALTORS®(CT) created a pocket park to educate visitors on sustainable gardening and native plants.   The park features plants such as echinacea, swamp milkweed, coreopsis and golden rod, designed to attract birds, bees and butterflies to the park.   The park also includes boulders used as places to sit, a more natural option in lieu of benches.


So, as you plan a placemaking project in 2018, you may also want to think about how the new destination can also help to make your community more resilient.


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.