So you’ve finally aligned the stars to get something important done in your community. Maybe it’s a corridor plan that nods to the needs of pedestrians, bikers and transit riders, as well as car drivers. Maybe it’s an ambitious mixed-use master plan for your downtown. Or a revamped zoning code to enable the development and redevelopment everybody seems to want.
It seems everywhere I turn lately I stumble my way into a conversation on creative placemaking — people looking at the activation of public space as a way to further their personal and collective passions and pursuits.
It’s heartening. I’m a firm believer that our taking of emotional ownership over the spaces in between the stuff we build and buy pays critical dividends towards a lot of the things we purport to care about: community, our children, the environment, even various spiritual and religious callings many hold dear.
In short, public space is the world we share. And it’s better when it reflects the whole of who and what we are.
Last week, in the Congress for the New Urbanism’s “Public Square” blog, sociologist David Brain outlined strategies for a Lean charrette, which is a work-in-progress concept designed to match up with Lean Urbanism strategies. Opportunist that I am, I welcome that as an excuse to try Part 2 of the charrette discussion I offered here.
I’m writing this as Wisconsin voters appear poised, if we’re to believe the hyperventilating pundits, to push the reset button on the 2016 presidential primary season. All bets are off from here on.
Not the smart money, though. That’s because the presidential campaign is likely to play out within boundaries shaped by what we voters tend to agree on most of the time:
The future we most believe in is the past we wish were true and are convinced we deserve.
A recent post over on Comstock’s reignited consideration of the word “placemaking,” sparking along with it a little renewed interest in this piece below, which originally ran back in February, 2013.
Given that we as a firm have officially been “placemakers” (on legal documents and everything!) since 2003, we unsurprisingly have our own thoughts on what this rather ill-defined word means and how it relates to the streets, neighborhoods, interactions, and politics of the communities we love.
We don’t claim to be last word on the matter, of course. The important thing is that the work gets done, whatever it’s called. But enjoy the take nonetheless.
Earlier this month, writing about successful neighborhood planning, my fellow PlaceMaker Howard Blackson used the term “placeshaker” as a catch-all for the grass roots engagement efforts that empower, but don’t necessarily define, placemaking.
See if this sounds familiar:
The city planning staff, maybe working with an expert team of design consultants, comes up with what they think is a no-brainer solution to a high-profile problem. Say, a proposal for much-needed multifamily development to address workforce housing demand. Or a plan to fix a blighted block with a mixed-use project that checks all the Smart Growth boxes. Or perhaps a senior-friendly cottage court adjacent to an existing single-family neighborhood of larger lots and homes.
Let’s say the proposal earns staff support and gets planning and zoning commission okays for whatever changes are required in local codes. It heads to city council for final approval, where everything hits the fan.
Five or so years ago, Better Cities and Towns publisher Rob Steuteville told me about Porchfest, a yearly community event taking root in his Ithaca, New York, neighborhood. The idea is simple: For one afternoon, porches throughout the community become makeshift stages, yards become venues, and people from within and beyond wander the streets, chatting, taking in music, and basically reacquainting themselves with what it means to be neighbors.
It’s grass roots, open to all, and totally free.
It was an idea ripe for emulation and I had the perfect idea where: My own, porch-laden neighborhood in Decatur, Georgia. So I added it to my list of things I need to get right on, then promptly neglected it for the next five years.
Thankfully, over the course of those years, a lot of other communities had similar inclinations — and better follow-through. Now, there are upwards of 40 Porchfests across the continent and the list keeps growing.
Friday, July 17, 2015
Launching Adventure Canada’s Heart of the Arctic expedition, we left Ottawa at dawn by charter flight, landing in Kuujjuaq before lunch. One glance out the window of the plane reinforces that “open space” has a whole new meaning here.