Placemaking is critical for the local economy. The strongest arguments focus on the market, attracting talent, and the creation of value. Other strong cases can be made on the basis of household economics, health, and the environment.
First, we need a handy definition. Here’s one from Mark Wyckoff of Michigan State University: “Placemaking is the process of creating quality places that people want to live, work, play, and learn in.” Mixed-use, compact, walkable neighborhoods are fundamental building blocks of communities with a strong sense of place.
The market pendulum has swung towards communities that generate a sense of place. Although placemaking is attractive to a broad range of socio-economic groups, young adults, college educated people, and relocating Boomers are particularly drawn to walkable places. Businesses who want to attract talent are looking to communities with a sense of place. Unless communities want to lose the young and the educated, they’d be wise to invest in ways that enhance, rather than detract from, a sense of place. That goes for cities, suburbs, and towns of all sizes.
The many benefits of placemaking make arguments hard in some ways, because you have to choose what to focus on. The temptation is to throw out too many facts and cover too much ground, and the case becomes overly complicated. The best tack will depend on the audience.
The concept of placemaking itself is relatively easy to communicate, because it is intuitively understandable. People have a sense of place and they react to a finely crafted main street or well-design public space.
The demand for place is driven by private choices. Yet the infrastructure and the zoning decisions are public. That’s why the strongest cases to be made are usually economic. Do you want your community to thrive in the future? If so, placemaking is a key to making that happen.
Robert Steuteville is editor and executive director of Better Cities & Towns.
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