More and more communities are beginning to recognize the need for place based asset strategies when it comes to economic development. 

Many community citizens, stakeholders and even economic development professionals find this a new idea and wonder exactly what this is. 

Placemaking is a term that is also jointly used as place based assets. Placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. Placemaking capitalizes on a local community’s assets, inspiration and potential with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people’s health, happiness and well-being. Placemaking is process and a philosophy.

There are basic steps in placemaking:

1. The community has the expertise. People who use a space regularly are the most familiar with it, tap into their knowledge of it, identify issues and how to improve the space.

2. You are creating a place, not a design. Design is an important component of creating a place, but not the only factor. Providing access and creating active uses, economic opportunities, and programming are often more important than design.

3. Everyone needs help. A good public space requires partners who contribute innovative ideas, financial or political support and help plan activities. Partners also can broaden the impact of a civic space by coordinating schedules for programming and improvement projects.

4. Don’t worry about naysayers, you can do it. Every community has naysayers. When an idea stretches beyond the reach of an organization or its jurisdiction and an official says, “It can’t be done,” it usually means: “We’ve never done things that way before.”  Keep pushing. Identify leaders in the community who share your vision and build support. Talk to your alderman and get him or her engaged.

5. Look through different lenses. People will often go to extraordinary lengths to adapt a place to suit their needs. A raised curb can be used as a place to sit, sort mail and even — believe it or not — cook clams. Observing a space allows you to learn how the space is used.

6. Develop a vision. A vision for a public space addresses its character, activities, uses and meaning in the community. This vision should be defined by the people who live or work in or near the space. Every community, county and town need a unified vision.

7. The work is never done. About 80 percent of the success of any public space can be attributed to its management. This is because the use of good places changes daily, weekly and seasonally, which makes management critical.

Now how does placemaking relate to economic development and business? You may have begun to see a bit of how they weave together by reading the information above. As you read forward, I will paint a better picture for you. 

Economic development placemaking is the practice of using a community’s public amenities/assets to make economic progress. The approach focuses on particular places, events and historical significance to strengthen existing business in the area/region.

As you may already know, attraction for many counties is not feasible so the focus in on retention and expansion of Tier 1-3 companies, with intent on Tier 2 to increase jobs in the area. More than 15,000 Economic Development Corporations are chasing after about 300 Tier 4 companies looking to expand nationwide. You can do the math and then understand why retention and expansion is so vital to counties in Indiana. Tier 2 companies are major suppliers of the labor market as well.

When communities commit to using placemaking as a method of economic development, the benefits extend far beyond enticing visitors, entrepreneurs, small businesses and corporations. 

To local economies recovering from a loss of conventional industry, placemaking is a method for capitalizing on existing strengths, rather than inventing new ones, for the purpose of developing a stronger economy. 

Placemaking is an environmentally friendly form of economic development. The walkable, bikeable and transit-friendly streets that are favored by the placemaking philosophy, lessen a community’s dependence on automobiles and fossil fuels. 

When open spaces are part of a community’s identity, and therefore its development strategy, there is more impetus to protect them. The distinct cultures of neighborhoods and communities are enhanced by this form of economic development. 

Placemaking encourages the recognition of local artists and musicians. It also places importance on preserving local landmarks and significant architecture.

As you consider your volunteer efforts, supporting local small business or large companies, also reflect for a moment on how you can help with the economy, labor skills and your overall community. There is so much need in your area for what skills you possess.

Heather Strohm is community development regional educator for the Southwest Region of Purdue University Extension.

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