Spaces to Places

Transforming Public Spaces into Vibrant Places for the Community.

I am a member of IEDC (International Economic Development Council).   IEDC has started to recognize placemaking as a way to help revitalize communities and to advance the economic development of an area.

In a recent issue of ED | NOW, there was an article entitled "Making Small or Unusual Spaces into Great Public Places".   I re-posted a project, Every Day a Picnic: Pop-up Parks, detailed in the article, discussing pop-up parks at vacant lots in Philadelphia, PA.

Here is another project happening in Philly, which takes advantage of a natural resource - water -  from that same article.

What a clever way to create a great place for the community to gather and take advantage of their natural assets.   Do you think this would work in your community?

By Lawrence Houstoun, AICP

For quite some time, the City of Philadelphia had sought a way to extend the popular Schuylkill Banks Trail, an urban pedestrian and bike trail which hugs the banks of Schuylkill River. However, a clustering of the historic Pennsylvania Railroad and Baltimore and Ohio lines held the right-of-way at a strategic section on the east bank. The railroads prevented connection of the trail to the South Street Bridge which links East and West Philadelphia.

The solution? Take pedestrians into the river.

The Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk extends 2,000 feet of walkway 20 feet above the river and 50 feet off shore from the river’s south bank, circumventing the railroad tracks and taking pedestrians above and in the midst of the river itself. The walkway is 15 feet wide with frequent access points and follows the river’s eastern shore, six to 12 feet above the water. At four points, the boardwalk is widened to 23 feet, where people can sit and take in the view. The structure is mounted on caissons drilled 40 feet down into bedrock. With ample room for pedestrians, cyclists, and fishers, the boardwalk has the river running on both sides of it and offers views of the city’s skyline and of long-distance trains.

The project was aided by advocacy efforts from the nonprofit Schuylkill River Development Corporation and the Philadelphia Bicycle Coalition. Federal stimulus money in the form of Transportation Improvements Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants helped fund the project, in addition to city and state support. The boardwalk was completed in 2014 at a cost of $18 million. The trail’s popularity has led to the planning of a second bridge at Grays Ferry near the southern end of the trail.

With tens of thousands of students and residents within walking distance of the trail, it was immediately popular simply for its proximity. Its unprecedented views and connectivity to other trails further cemented its success.


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.