Building a Marketplace for Placemaking: A Meeting of the Minds

For the next day-and-a-half I have the distinct pleasure of working with some of the leading minds in placemaking from around the country. People like Fred Kent, John Norquist, Josh McManus, Nate Berg and about 50 others are gathered at the Scarab Club in Detroit to discuss ways to advance the concepts of ‘place’.

I will add to this blog throughout the day so please check back.

Some of those gathered at Detroit's Scarab Club today

  • We’re developing 25 placemaking case studies as a means to share the very best ideas from around the country. The goal is to replicate great projects in as many places as possible.
  • When asked to name the top placemaking project he has seen , Fred Kent chose the Dutch example of dealing with pedestrian safety. They switched from a top down design standard to a bottom-up one that allows individual neighborhoods and streets to control their streets. There are more bike lanes, road diets, transit allowance, etc. The results, as we all know have been amazing.
  • The Power of Ten is important for placemaking. Otherwise, scalability and replication are improbable.
  • Temporary infrastructure is a quick fix for blighted areas. As a bonus, once a neighborhood shows signs of coming back it can easily be replaced by more  permanent structures. Think food carts, container buildings, urban farming, etc.
  • “Metrics vs. Charisma” – Another political ad? No, its important in placemaking, too. Truly scalable projects outlive initial leaders for sound business reasons.
  • “If you build it they will come” isn’t the whole story. “If you build it with the people who want it then they will come” (or stay) is much better.
  • Modeling is important in the placemaking movement. Local governments especially are doing different things and responding to different demands that require a novel approach to keeping score.
  • Placemaking has an important impact on public safety. The more attractive the place, the more people hang around. And eyes on the street lessens the opportunity to commit crimes. Basic math.
  • Large government funding for things like convention centers, highways and urban renewal projects have had a Godzilla-like effect on communities such as Detroit. Bad decisions can ruin the landscape for a generation>>> John Norquist. Tru dat.
  • What would you do with $1,000 in a week; $10,000 over a month; or, $100,000 over a year to advance placemaking concepts in cities? That’s what we are currently hashing out. Ideas are welcome from blog readers. Really!
  • Much of the discussion today centered on the need to develop new governance models for providing appropriate services and infrastructure for 2012 and beyond. The current systems in most cities are outdated and the financial models unsustainable. Utilizing a combination of new technologies, civic engagement and public/private partnerships are part of the answer. Ensuring that state and federal government live up to their obligations to provide necessary financial and institutional platforms is another.
  • Leroy Williams


    I think we are on the same page. If we can get native Detroit residents more involved on the creative side where we see residents envisioning new projects, and funders coming onboard to give lift to the ideas, we would see something really special happen in this city. If this were to happen it would add an element of authenticity to Detroit’s rebirth. In my view this is how you ensure that you have an organically grown urban environment which is a beautiful composite of what is new and what has been renewed.

    Fringe City Development Group is a real estate development group formed in response to what my business partner and I saw unfolding in Detroit”s midtown/WSU area. We have always had a passion for helping Detroit become a model for urban renewal which demonstrates the resilience of its people. We are focused on creating projects in the Northend/Piquette industrial area. We are presently involved in the redevelopment of the old mounted police station located along the Woodward corridor . Our partners include Vanguard CDC, Puzzle Piece Theatre, and other community stakeholders. We are also looking at other sites in the area.

    Leroy Williams

  • Leroy,

    The funding issue is one that I 100% agree with you on. Whether it is a large scale building project or a simple clean-up of a vacant lot the funding options just aren’t there like they should be. Let’s Save Michigan did a great placemaking campaign that funded three projects earlier this year and I think they may do so again, but that isn’t enough.

    On the community engagement front, I believe that everyone must do a better job. Good placemaking and quality citizen engagement go together and they simply must be prioritized higher.

    What is FCDG? Sounds interesting.

    Thanks for reading.

  • Leroy Williams

    While I think that there are multiple places in Detroit which are interesting and even magnetic,overall placemaking in Detroit is challenging. One of the great obstacles is finding funding for unconventional projects. Funding typically travels along well trodden paths and rarely finds the courage to venture into new areas. The result is great projects having no choice but to start off slow, inching along until someone discovers their value. Another obstacle in Detroit is creating new and dynamic places in areas which even while decaying and blighted, have an existing identity which the remaining residents fiercely hold to. Under such circumstances the reasonable course is creating places which graft the scion of what is new onto the existing stock of residents who are determined to be part of the change in their own neighborhoods. While the transgenesis idea is exciting and makes for very interesting conversation the methodology still seems to be lacking due to a community engagement strategy which hasnt worked.

    Leroy Williams
    Fringe City Development Group

  • Kyle,

    I think that Fred’s point was that the central function of street planning was devolved to the city and neighborhood level. That is very powerful by itself, whether in a sprawling town of a core city. The governance matter at question is certainly not where our state government appears headed as they are attempting to take more decision making on roads and infrastructure in house. Feel free to contact Fred directly as well (

    Thanks for reading.

  • Dan,

    I was unable to make the PlaceMarket today, but I’m so glad to see that you’ve bullet-point blogged about what happened! It looks like there was some great conversation. I’m curious about Fred Kent’s point about the Dutch “bottom-up” approach and how that might apply in a city like Detroit. I had the opportunity to visit the Netherlands earlier this year and their cities are so much more condensed and enclosed. How might that approach work in a fluidly sprawling city like Detroit? Would our political districting changes become crucial for place development? I’m curious to hear your thoughts or if any of that was mentioned throughout the day. Keep up the great work!

    Thank you,
    Kyle Christensen
    Director of Design and Marketing
    Better Block Detroit