Economic Diversification Roadmap: Placemaking Strategies

In nuclear communities, placemaking involves creating distinct spaces and local activities that exist independently of the local nuclear plant. Often, when these plants initially open in communities (much like other major industries), they establish a sense of identity through activities such as job creation, sponsoring community events, supporting local organizations through volunteerism, and other initiatives. However, when such industries shut down or the plant becomes inoperative, it can leave the community feeling isolated.

Placemaking serves as a means for communities to mitigate some of these negative effects. It is a collaborative and community-driven approach that extends beyond just designing physical spaces. It also encompasses the cultivation of a sense of belonging and a vested interest in these spaces.

Who can use this whitepaper?

  • Local elected officials
  • Municipal planners
  • Economic development managers
  • Community representatives & organizations

The goal of placemaking is to develop vibrant and inclusive spaces that reflect the unique character of a community. This involves actively engaging various stakeholders from the community, including residents, businesses, local leaders, and organizations. Key principles of placemaking typically encompass:

  • Community Engagement
  • Cultivating a Sense of Place
  • Accessibility and Inclusivity
  • Sustainability
  • Community Collaboration

One way to achieve these goals is by establishing areas where residents can gather for events, programs, and recreational activities. This helps communities harness local social activity for economic benefits and supports businesses and industries by attracting people to popular communal spaces that can serve as storefronts, concert venues, and advertising hubs. Many communities have downtown or village centers that they aim to activate with increased pedestrian activity. This draws both residents and visitors to small shops, boutiques, stores, and service centers, thus boosting the local economy.

Especially in small rural areas, town centers often serve as the heart of a community’s public life, providing essential goods and services. However, factors like suburban sprawl and neglect have led these valuable assets to be underutilized and overlooked.

Placemaking is human-centric; while it is important to have visually appealing and functional public spaces, it is more critical that these same spaces are created by putting the community at the center of the design process. This approach ultimately results in places that people genuinely love and feel connected to.

Summary of Technical Assistance Work – Case Study

Tampa Bay Regional Council – Crystal River, Florida

In Crystal River, the Nuclear Communities TA team evaluated existing plans from Citrus County and regional plans to identify strategies and goals that were previously proposed to revitalize its town center. These plans advocated for the development of a diversified downtown economy, public infrastructure improvements, the sustainable use of natural resources, and the promotion of multi-modal transportation systems in central areas. The team found that the Citrus County Land Development Code (LDC) promotes residential uses in nearly every zoning category, except for industrial zones, allowing for housing in existing commercial and other non-residential areas, but at lower densities than multi-family or workforce housing would provide. The LDC for the county also allowed more flexibility than the local Crystal River zoning designations which only allow housing in residential areas.

To further investigate the opportunities for downtown activation and residential development, a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis of current land uses was conducted. This analysis demonstrated that the Crystal River and Citrus County areas have several historic buildings as well as abundant parks and aquatic resources to support increased development and attract new residents. However, these areas also lack sufficient public infrastructure, such as wastewater lines, to adapt to and mitigate the threat of rising sea levels, a threat to future development and economic resilience. As a result, the TA team suggested potential planning and placemaking objectives to support a resilient and active downtown for Crystal River and Citrus County specifically focused on mobility, marketing, and infrastructure development. The ultimate goal was to enhance the local sense of place and to establish a unique character for Crystal River and Citrus County that connected downtown to adjacent areas via multimodal connections to the marina.

The placemaking process

To evaluate an area for placemaking enhancement potential, a community should consider existing conditions as they relate to current patterns of development and pedestrian conditions. It is important to use up-to-date parcel information and zoning designations for an accurate assessment of a community’s current built environment. Making an area a place where residents feel connected to and want to spend time rather than pass through, will bring economic, environmental, and health benefits to the local community by increasing opportunities for physical activity, community events, environmental conservation, and compact business development.

Step 1: Ground-truth the researched conditions in your community by traversing the areas around potential activity centers, by either physically moving through these spaces or utilizing web-based mapping tools such as Google Earth to examine an area’s current conditions.

  • Identify wayfinding and signage improvements
  • Update or create a sidewalk network map
  • Find areas or points that could serve as marketing opportunities for your community

Step 2: Create a table, chart, or other organizational layout displaying your community’s zoning designations in the area of interest. For example:

Zoning Designation (Per Parcel)


Permitted Uses

Percentage of Total Area

Residential (R)

Low/high density, etc.

Single-family, townhomes, duplexes, etc.


Commercial (C)

Small-scale, shopping center, etc.

Office centers, food service, hotels, etc.


Multifamily (M)

Low/high density, etc.

Number of units, square footage, etc.


Mixed Use (MU)

Shopping/residential, office/residential, etc.

Type of business, number of units, etc.


Industrial (I)

Light/heavy industrial, etc.

Warehousing, auto businesses, etc.


Step 3: Similarly, create a land use table of your community’s current land use per parcel. Land use differs from zoning because it tells you what type of use (development) is on a parcel, not which zoning designation the parcel falls within. A code will tell you the density allowed on a parcel, and the land use will tell you what type of unit is allowed to be built on the site. For example:

Land Use (Per Parcel)

Acreage of Land Use

Percentage of Total Area
















Step 4: The results of this analysis should be documented in a comprehensive report that includes detailed information on the land inventory, potential placemaking sites, and future wayfinding and signage investments. Visuals such as maps and photographs of the area can convey relevant information to stakeholders in an accessible way and provide context.

This resource is part of the Community Economic Diversification Roadmap, a new tool created by Smart Growth America and the Nuclear Communities TA team, to support communities in planning for the challenges and opportunities that stem from hosting energy infrastructure.

Economic development