Placemaking: Why We Do What We Do

Believe it or not, there are actual strategies that go into planning projects in and for communities. I know at times things can seem somewhat haphazard, but there really is a method to the madness. That said, what works in one place doesn’t necessarily translate to another. According to Project for Public Spaces (PSS), “placemaking inspires people to collectively reimagine and reinvent public spaces as the heart of every community. Strengthening the connection between people and the places they share, placemaking refers to a collaborative process by which¬†we can shape our public realm in order to maximize shared value.” Here at Hartwell’s Main Street Program, we do this through Main Street’s four-point approach of Design, Promotions, Economic Vitality, and Organization. Effective placemaking takes a collaborative effort between citizens, business owners, and government to create a place where people want to be. This weekend was a perfect example of that. We had several events going on in Hartwell. Plant sales, antique boat shows, and dog walks were all on the calendar. From what I saw, they were all well attended, safe, and fun events. It took volunteers, corporate partners, city and county resources, and participation from folks in the area to make it a great weekend. The goal should be to focus on place. This place. Hartwell. With that in mind, there are 11 key elements to placemaking. 1) The community is the expert. Specifically, the people of the community are the experts, and your voices are necessary. 2) Create a place, not a design. Design is not enough; there has to be a sence of vitality to the project as in, we cannot do without this. 3) Look for partners. In today’s world, there has to be a collaboration between public works, private investment, and civil society resources to fill gaps in our community. 4) You can see a lot by observing. Much can be gained from seeing others successes and failures. We can learn what to add and subtract from our communities by looking to other locations in the state and region. 5) Have a vision. It is not enough to say “be the best.” We can’t be the best at everything, that is reality. We can identify what we are really great at, what we are good enough at, and what we need to work on. Energy and effort should be placed in the latter category. 6) Start with petunias: Lighter, quicker, cheaper. Public spaces are complex. It is better to do a few small things really well before jumping on to enormous projects. Murals and community gardens are a great jumping off point. 7) Triangulate. “Triangulation is the process by which some external stimulus provides a linkage between people and prompts strangers to talk to other strangers as if they knew each other” (Holly Whyte). Resources may not get used if they are placed in the public space without much thought. If resources are arranged systematically, then they can be used and enjoyed by everyone. 8) They always say “it can’t be done.” Who are “they?” I often here about “they.” I hear, “they should do something about this or that” a lot. There will always be naysayers, but let me fill you in on a secret, “they” are you and me. We are guilty of getting in our own way at times. I promise it can be done, because people are out there doing it. We can do it too. 9) Form supports function. “The input from the community and potential partners, the understanding of how other spaces function, the experimentation, and overcoming the obstacles and naysayers provides the concept for the space. Although design is important, these other elements tell you what “form” you need to accomplish the future vision for the space.” -PSS. 10) Money is not the issue. When the community brings their resources together to accomplish all of the items we all say we want, many hands will make light work, and 11) You are never finished. Making our community great does not have and end state. If for no other reason, new technology comes along constantly and I promise you, we want it too. That said, we must be open to change, and flexible enough to seize opportunity when it presents itself. We started the 11 key elements of placemaking with the foundation of Hartwell as the place. Now we need to apply these 11 elements to our place.

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