With the term ‘placemaking’ becoming more commonplace in city planning circles these days, it is easy to categorize the practice as exclusively for big cities. Most of the articles and publications that are dedicated to placemaking detail important projects taking place in cities like New York, Detroit, and Toronto.
Most big city placemaking efforts, however, don’t cover an entire community. Projects are often centered in a particular geographic area like a neighborhood, an open air market, or a university district. Identifying the area where placemaking efforts can get the biggest bang for their buck is paramount to a project’s ultimate success, even if the geography is loosely defined. The Hudson-Webber Foundation’s plan to bring 15,000 college educated Millennials to Midtown Detroit, the University of Pennsylvania’s efforts to re-energize west Philadelphia, and New York’s creative construction of the High Line are great examples of inter-city innovative projects that are making a difference. Other placemaking efforts, sometimes connected but often not, are happening in other neighborhoods across these towns simultaneously.
Smaller towns (Yes placemaking is for small towns, too!) are getting in on the act as well. Because small cities and villages, unlike their larger counterparts, often share a single identity throughout the community, their placemaking efforts often comprise just about everything in the community. The smaller geography can help in identifying assets and leverage points to improve quality of life and create economic opportunities.
Recently the Michigan Municipal League highlighted seven projects around the state, all of which came from small and midsize communities—the City of West Branch being the smallest (pop. 2,139) and Southfield the largest at 71,739. The innovation that these communities showed though was anything but little. The big winner of the competition was the City of Clare (3,173) and its inspirational efforts to save an important piece of its downtown history, the 115-year-old Clare City Bakery. This foundation business was within weeks of closing when the members of the Clare Police Department came to the rescue. All nine members of the local police department banded together to save this historic business. And what they have created in new jobs, foot traffic in the business district, and momentum is a wonderful testimonial to the power of community.
You can read more about the competition here. In the meantime, let’s all remember that placemaking and community engagement are essential to communities of all sizes.