Placemaking is an economic development strategy

Placemaking plays an important role in creating attractive communities which attract educated people, rich in talent and ideas. Such people are a vital part of a community’s economic growth.

Placemaking is a major strategy for Michigan’s economic recovery.  It is not the only strategy Michigan municipalities should be using, but it is one of many strategies and plays an important role in our economic recovery.

Unlike most economic development strategies, Placemaking requires the work and participation of local planning commissions, and a re-thinking of local zoning ordinances.

First it is helpful to conduct a quick side-by-side review of the characteristics of the “old” economy and the “new” economy.  This side-by-side review will focus on the six of the 11 characteristics which has to do with Placemaking.  For the 11 characteristics of old and new economy see figure 1.  This is not to say one stops efforts concerning old economy, that should continue – often in the form of business retention strategies.

Figure 1: Characteristics of old and new economy

Old Economy

New Economy

Inexpensive place to do business was the key

Being rich in talent and ideas is the key

Attracting companies was key

Attracting educated people is key

A high-quality physical environment was a luxury, in the way of attracting cost-conscious businesses

Physical and cultural amenities are key in attracting knowledge workers

Success = fixed competitive advantage in some resource or skill; the labor force was skills-dependent

Success = organizations and individuals with the ability to learn and adapt

Economic development was government-led

Partnerships with business, government and nonprofit sector lead change

Industrial sector (manufacturing) focus

Sector diversity is desired and clustering of relation sectors is targeted

Fossil fuel-dependent manufacturing

Communication-dependent but energy smart

People followed jobs

Talented, well-educated people choose locations first, then look for a job

Location mattered, especially relative transportation and raw materials

Quality places with a high quality of life matter more

Dirty, ugly and poor quality environment were common outcomes that did not prevent growth

Clean, green environment and proximity to open space and quality recreational opportunities are critical

Connection to global opportunities was not essential

Connection to emerging global opportunities is critical

It used to be that being inexpensive was a key to attracting business to a community.  For example, in Michigan we have many legacy tools for that purpose – things like tax incentives, tax increment financing, or the strategy of building an industrial park so costs of infrastructure is taken care of ahead of time. 

In the new economy being rich in talent and ideas is now key.  Business today must be constantly innovating, adjusting to new technology, focusing on new products and ideas.  Having a labor force that can provide those skills is very important for businesses in the new economy.

Economic strategy was focused on attracting new companies to a community.  If the factory came, the workers would follow.  In the new economy attracting educated people is a key strategy.  Having an educated workforce is the best indicator to show that a community is rich in talent and ideas which is of key importance for a new economy business.

A high quality physical environment was one of the things which was counter-productive to having a low-cost community – generally necessary to attract business.  But today those physical and cultural amenities are key to attracting educated knowledge workers, so a community has an educated workforce as the best indicator to show that a community is rich in talent and ideas which is key for new economy business.

In the old economy, if the factory located in town, that then attracted workers to the community.  But today, based on college job placement office data, about 66 percent of young educated knowledge workers first choose where they want to live, and after they have moved there, then look for work – or become entrepreneurs creating their own job.  Even this recession has not changed that 66 percent number much.

The point here is, educated knowledge workers are very mobile, will move, and choose where they want to live.  Employers now follow those educated knowledge workers to those communities.

In the new economy having quality places, high quality of life, matters a lot.  That is how a community gets selected by the educated knowledge workers, having those physical and cultural amenities which are key to attracting educated knowledge workers, so a community has an educated workforce as the best indicator to show that a community is rich in talent and ideas which is key for new economy business.

Finally having a clean, green environment, near open space, recreational opportunities, also matters a lot.  That is how a community gets selected by the educated knowledge workers.

Placemaking is the set of activities, planned for mainly by the local government/planning commission, and done by local government/developers to create a community and region which attract educated knowledge workers.  Placemaking means creating good physical form that attracts strong business and social activity that fosters positive emotional feelings in people who are attracted to the space the form creates: a strong sense of place.

Placemaking in Michigan means creating or preserving high quality communities.  Communities that have elements which attract educated knowledge workers:

  • Mixed uses,
  • Quality public spaces,
  • Broadband enabled,
  • Multiple transportation options,
  • Multiple housing options,
  • Preservation of historic structures,
  • Arts and culture,
  • Green places, and
  • Linked regionally to rural and natural places.

Michigan State University Extension provides specific training on placemaking in cooperation with MiPlace.  Contact a MSU Extension Land Use educator in your region of Michigan for more information.

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