REALTORS® Embrace Projects That Transform Communities

NAR placemaking grants build more than just great local gathering places.

If you’ve ever noticed how a few benches make a public square more inviting or how a community garden makes a neighborhood feel more livable, then you’ve appreciated placemaking.

Placemaking is a global movement that helps citizens transform their underused public spaces into places that highlight local assets, spur rejuvenation, and serve common needs. Examples range from playgrounds and public gardens to bike trails and sidewalk seating.

The National Association of REALTORS®’ Placemaking Initiative encourages REALTOR® associations and their members to become engaged in their communities by creating beautiful and useful public places. As a place becomes more desirable and welcoming, surrounding properties increase in value.

Nearly 100 REALTOR® associations have built community places in the past few years with resources and financial help from the National Association of REALTORS®’ Placemaking Initiative.

“We really didn’t know what to expect when we set out to accomplish this,” says Colleen Pappas, executive vice president of the Worcester Regional Association of REALTORS® in Massachusetts. “But everyone involved now shares a great sense of accomplishment in having given back to the community.”

The Worcester association’s placemaking project, with a $2,500 grant and 15 member and staff volunteers, rehabilitated a park surrounding a veterans’ memorial statue.

What are placemaking projects?

Placemaking can mean many things to many people. There is no standard model in use, but there are plenty of case studies on NAR’s placemaking blog (spacestoplaces.blogs.realtor.org). In essence it means creating an enjoyable public space where the community can gather.

Places that reflect this concept include pedestrian plazas and walkways, parks, community gardens, walking paths, and bike trails. Placemaking projects can include the whole place or an amenity, such a fountain, a mural, seating, landscaping, or swings.

The Tuolumne County Association of REALTORS® in California, for example, designed new signage to welcome tourists and residents to the historic town center.

What placemaking is not, however, is exclusive or private. For example, park benches represent placemaking, whereas softball bleachers do not, because bleachers would benefit only those who play or watch softball and can’t be used for another purpose. Placemaking is also about being accessible all or most of the time, which generally means outside spaces, not buildings or inside spaces. Placemaking is not infrastructure-related, so it would not focus on sidewalk or pothole repairs.

Examples and inspiration abound at the NAR placemaking blog and related sites such as placemakingchicago.com or the Project for Public Spaces at pps.org. NAR staff is available to help with ideas and recommends starting with a place that doesn’t take a lot of time, resources, or effort. In fact, expensive and labor-intensive initiatives are not the only—or even the most effective—ways to bring energy and life into a community’s public space.

Piggybacking on a major project can be an excellent plan. For example, if a new community facility is being built, such as a library, park, or train station, consider creating a gathering place outside the building. Also, don’t go it alone on your project; partner with others in the community, including gardening clubs, city planning agencies, arts and cultural groups, and other nonprofits. Most associations that apply for a placemaking grant partner with others and pool funding and resources.

Many placemaking projects have sailed though from idea to reality with enthusiastic partners, solid city council support, and reliable craftsmen. Others, unfortunately, have not. Park benches or dog parks may not sound like complex undertakings but can be when they involve ordinances, licenses, labor unions, and politics. Keep this in mind when choosing a project.

Aside from the community benefit and the positive publicity for the association, the Placemaking Initiative is widely praised as a way to promote REALTORS® as stewards of their communities. In many instances, a placemaking project broadens the very definition of REALTOR® in the minds of residents. Plus, projects often fulfill your association’s Core Standards community involvement requirement.

There is probably an eyesore in your community about which people, including you, say, “I wish they would do something there.”

Well, why can’t it be your association?

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