A group of people of color standing outside posing for the camera with excitement and their arms in the air.

A Wonk-Free Secret to Great Placemaking

Is the secret of a great place the proper placement of its streetlights? The font choice and color scheme of its signage? Its WalkScore? Or something else entirely?

Is the secret of a great place the proper placement of its streetlights? In the font choice and color scheme of its signage? In its WalkScore?

Earlier this month, I had the chance to go to ArtPlace’s grantee summit in Los Angeles, where a new answer to these questions was a breath of fresh air for at least one design and planning geek (i.e., me).

I came to Barr’s Transportation and Smart Growth team after finishing graduate work in urban design and planning. I also sit on the planning board of my hometown on Boston’s South Shore. This has given me many opportunities to debate the minutiae of placemaking. In these circles, the typical recommended recipe looks something like this:

  1. Take ¼ mile of urban land.
  2. Remove 20% of parking spaces.
  3. Place a transit station at center.
  4. Add colorful signage to taste.
  5. Liberally sprinkle locally produced food and energy
  6. Blend with mixed-use affordable housing.
  7. Bake for 10-20 years.

At the ArtPlace summit, I heard about a different ingredient that makes that old recipe seem rather bland and ivory-tower theoretical – namely, people.


Artplace America

Transportation planners and “complete streets” advocates help focus on access to and from, and movement through places. Economic developers focus on job creation in a place. Smart Growth types focus on identifying the most sustainable places to add density to places. But the folks at ArtPlace were all focused on people, voice, and the quality of life and vibrancy in places, not just their statistics and features, but what it takes to create places people want to be, and to be a part of.

It was inspiring to hear about places across the country where this is already happening (Lauren featured a few of them recently, A few more are on ArtPlace’s 2013 list of top ArtPlaces).

I look forward to more opportunities to break out of my designer/planner silo, and to invite more artists into mine.

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