Placemaking done right: three successful approaches

soldotna
An improved storefront in Soldotna, AK. Photo courtesy of City of Soldotna.

It is often hard to quantify what makes a place memorable, successful or special, but to paraphrase an old adage, “You know it when you see it.” Some urban planners have described placemaking as the deliberate re-shaping of the built environment to facilitate social interaction and improve quality of life. While there is no universal blueprint for creating great places, there are successful examples worth noting, especially given the numerous benefits that come with great placemeking.

Placemaking improves the physical, psychological, health and public safety aspects of a community. Creating attractive places where people want to be increases foot traffic and helps support the local economy, which is critically important. Interesting places with more community interaction also reduce crime and instill a sense of identity to a neighborhood. So, how does good placemaking happen? The following examples from Philadelphia (PA), Soldotna (AK) and Orlando (FL) showcase three approaches on different scales, achieved by different means.

Local Leaders Council

Great neighborhoods in action: Send us photos of your town on the Fourth of July


The Fourth of July parade passes through downtown Nevada City, CA. Photo via Flickr user Darin Barry.

From the parades that go down main street to watching the fireworks in a nearby park, smart growth strategies and the Fourth of July go hand in hand.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. The Fourth of July is one of the best days of the year to see great planning and thoughtful community building in action.

While celebrating our nation’s independence, remember to take a look around. Chances are you’re in a public space or great, walkable neighborhood that smart growth strategies can help to create.

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Smart growth news – November 22

A land bank helped Flint, Michigan, expert says, and could help New York cities, too
The Business Review (N.Y.), November 22, 2011
Daniel T. Kildee, founder of the Genesee County Land Bank in Michigan, told a group of about 80 public and private sector officials in Albany, New York, that land banks can help local counties, cities and towns make better use of tax-foreclosed properties.

Valley gets $3.4 million to study development
The Morning Call (Pa.), November 21, 2011
Developers have long tried to lure commute-weary homebuyers with signs that say “If you lived here you’d be home by now.” A consortium of Lehigh Valley planning groups has been awarded $3.4 million by the federal government to try to make that dream — of living closer to work and enjoying an improved quality of life — reachable for more people.

N.J. gets $5 million HUD grant for regional planning
The Star-Ledger (N.J.), November 21, 2011
Federal officials today awarded New Jersey a $5 million grant to develop regional economic plans for 13 northern counties to attract businesses and jobs to areas with solid residential communities and good transportation systems.

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Smart growth news – October 4

Build communities around people and their needs
The Grand Rapids Press (Mich.), October 4, 2011
Dan Gilmartin, the executive director and chief executive of the Michigan Municipal League, advocates building communities around people as a means of economic prosperity and sustainability. The league, headquartered in downtown Lansing, is bringing about 500 people to Grand Rapids this week to discuss issues facing municipalities and how to lead the state out of the doldrums.

Study: Transit Ridership Up in 2011
Transportation Nation, October 3, 2011
Transit ridership increased by 85.7 million trips, or 1.7 percent nationwide, in the first six months of 2011, according to a report released today by the American Public Transit Association, the pro-transit lobbying group.

Montgomery legislators to vote on controversial development proposal
Washington Post, October 3, 2011
The plan would help create a string of small, walkable cities in traditionally suburban areas where the county wants mass transit. Supporters say it could usher in a new era of more coordinated growth.

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Smart growth news – June 28, 2011

The Atlantic Looks for New Audience with Cities Site
Ad Week, June 27, 2011
The Atlantic, whose online push was key to getting the brand into the black last year, is launching another major expansion online, but with a new tack. In a first for the magazine, TheAtlanticCities.com is launching as a single-topic, standalone site. Coming in September, the site also is a departure in that it will be centered around Richard Florida, an urban studies expert who comes from an academic rather than a journalism background. Florida is the author of The Rise of the Creative Class, among other titles, and has a longstanding relationship with the magazine and its offshoots.

Sinking G.O.P. Poll Numbers May Put Florida in Play
New York Times, June 27, 2011
Mr. Scott’s unpopularity is mostly rooted in his aggressive push for large cuts in the budget and the public-sector work force, his decision to reject $2.4 billion in federal money for a high-speed rail project, and the dismissive and even abrasive way he deals with those who disagree with him or ask a lot of questions.

Housing vouchers a golden ticket to pricey suburbs
Washington Post, June 25, 2011
“There goes the neighborhood,” one homeowner said when she heard that her potential new neighbor had a federal housing voucher known as a Section 8. But Jackson could well be Pinebrook’s salvation, a means by which landlords can rent an empty, crime-magnet of a house to a tenant with a steady, government-backed check.

Complete Streets

Main Street and open space: Smart growth at work in rural areas

Towns and cities across the country in all types of areas – rural, suburban as well as urban – can use smarter development strategies to create stronger, more vibrant communities. Such was the topic of a discussion at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC, on Thursday. Anna Read of the International City/County Management Association and Stephanie Bertaina of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Sustainable Communities discussed strategies that can help guide growth in rural areas while protecting natural and working lands and preserving rural character.

Read and Bertaina identified a number of benefits rural areas can reap by incorporating smart growth strategies. Smaller towns and cities often a struggle to maintain open space and small-town character while still benefiting from development, and though growth can bring the economic opportunity many rural areas want, it can also bring traffic congestion and other conflicts. The speakers acknowledged these sometimes conflicting needs and explained how smart growth strategies can help towns strike a delicate balance. Smart growth strategies help create an economic climate that enhances working lands and conserves natural lands, while protecting downtowns and Main Streets and helping those valuable assets thrive. In doing so, smart growth strategies can help build vibrant, enduring neighborhoods that people, especially young people, want to live in.

One example of this principle in action is the Texas Historical Commission (THC). Through its Texas Main Street Program, THC helps communities across Texas capitalize on their unique, authentic character. For many small businesses in the state, the Texas Main Street Program is a key to survival. As Britin Bostick, who sits on the Paris, TX, Main Street Advisory Board and chairs the downtown economic restructuring committee, explained to the Daily Yonder, THC’s Main Street revitalization effort provided “a necessary framework for us to build our downtown.”

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