Community input will benefit and focus “placemaking” efforts

Success with community placemaking efforts includes several key considerations.

There’s lots of talk lately about placemaking and creating a “sense of place” in our local communities. This is important work as we prepare for our economic future! We are more aware of how important it is to focus on placemaking, but what does that mean in simple terms?

The Project for Public Spaces has identified key considerations in making underutilized public spaces vibrant community places, whether they’re parks, public squares, streets, sidewalks or the many other outdoor and indoor spaces that have public uses in common.

Consider this:

You can see a lot by looking.
By watching how people are using (or not using) public spaces and asking what they like and don’t like about them, it is possible to determine what makes them work or not work. It will become obvious what kinds of activities are missing and what might be incorporated. Continuing to observe use will teach even more about how to develop and manage public spaces over time. Our communities are full of public spaces, do you know where to look?

Listen to the community.
We should listen to people who can provide historical perspectives and insight into how a public area functions. They can help us understand what is meaningful to people and any issues critical to the area. Considering this information up front will help to create a sense of community ownership in the project that will be of great benefit. The vision for public spaces needs to come from the community and reflect a sense of pride. What kinds of activities could work that will draw people to be there and be comfortable for families?

It’s more than design.
A pretty design will not be enough to create a vital “place” where people feel welcome and want to meet. Add flexible seating and new landscaping, and develop more effective connections between the surrounding retail businesses and activities in public spaces. The goal is to create a place that has both a strong sense of community and a comfortable image, as well as activities and uses that collectively add up to something more than the sum of its often simple parts.

The little things matter: Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper.
Don’t expect to do everything right initially. The best spaces try short term improvements that can be tested and refined over time! Public seating, outdoor cafes, crosswalk striping, public art and murals are examples of enhancements that can be completed quickly with a relatively small budget.

The key is to just do it!

To learn more about placemaking concepts, tools and related topics, visit Project for Public Spaces.

MSU Extension Educators are available to work with communities to assist with building consensus and establishing local priorities. For additional information on this and other issues including community success in the New Economy, placemaking, or community engagement and leadership development, contact Ann Chastain, MSU Extension Educator at 231.373.6199, or by e-mail

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