Placemaking success is seen when people using those Places

Seeing people engaged on the street shows it is a vibrant Place, and Placemaking efforts are succeeding. Placemaking is an important economic strategy, and has already worked in a number of Michigan communities.

“There are people on the street,” Joe Borgstrom said, and that is how you can tell local Placemaking efforts are working.

Borgstrom, Director of Specialized Technical Assistance and Revitalization Strategy for the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) added that buildings, parks, form, and similar are the tools a community uses to create Place, but people using the location is the sign of success.

The Founder and president of the Project for Public Spaces “Fred Kent said something along the lines of ‘Placemaking is a change from the place you want to go through into a Place you want to be’” Summer Minnick, Director of Policy Initiatives and Federal Affairs of the Michigan Municipal League said. Matt McCauley, Director of Regional Planning at Northwest Michigan Council of Governments, added that placemaking is anything a community can do to improve the aesthetic, social, economic conditions in a way that is distinct from neighboring communities.

Borgstrom, Minnick, and McCauley were panelists at the 2013 Michigan Citizen Planner Advanced Academy at Michigan State University in mid-June 2013. The discussion was before an audience of local planning and zoning officials, professional staff, and others from around Michigan. The focus of the annual day-long event this year was on Placemaking.

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. The goal of Placemaking is 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.

Those in the audience were able to ask questions. In response to those questions panelists shared what they felt were great Placemaking examples. Minnick suggested the Larkin Square neighborhood in Buffalo, New York.

“This was an old warehousing district that has now become a really cool pocket urban neighborhood” she said.

Minnick also named Max Euweplein square in Amsterdam, where there is a large, human scale, chessboard. The square is a vibrant place, humming with human activity. She conceded that this is part of Amsterdam, which is a city of many great places to begin with, but this square is particularly successful.

Boyne City, Mich. was Borgstrom’s Place of note. He explained the city’s downtown has made a very good comeback – due in large part to talented and effective city staff. Boyne City’s downtown is now in a growth mode with “Stroll the Streets” every Friday night.

McCauley drew attention to the very small rural community character-making by naming Lodi’s large concrete bunny in Kalkaska County.

“Lodi, population 5, has a large concrete bunny in rural Kalkaska County, which proves to be quite an attraction” McCauley said. His point was that Placemaking does not have to be a large urban area, or small town. It happens at a different scale for rural areas too.

Each of the panelists stressed this was not a complete list with Frankfort, Traverse City, Ann Arbor, Marquette, and Grand Rapids mentioned as others that could also be on the list of great places.

The Michigan Citizen Planner Advanced Academy is a Michigan State University Extension annual event to provide follow-up training, master citizen planner credits, and a chance for Citizen Planner alumni to gather each year. The Advanced Academy is held in June of each year. Watch the MSU Extension coming events and Citizen Planner web page for announcements of coming training events.

Other MSU Extension News stories on placemaking include:

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