Thinking About Creative Placemaking

Posted in Now.

Placemaking has become the latest buzzword among local arts agencies and funding organizations. But it is hardly a new concept. Urban planners, public artists and cultural planners have been using this approach, under a variety of names, for years. Stated simply, creative placemaking is a revitalization strategy that marries arts development with economic development and community development. The Cultural Planning Group was recently invited to submit a proposal for a “cultural placemaking” project in Louisiana. This got us to thinking about what placemaking really means. We identified ten elements that characterize successful strategies for placemaking:

  • They nurture and sustain partnerships among key organizations and individuals in the community.
  • They recognize and build upon the unique characteristics of their community, its physical, social, cultural and economic circumstances.
  • They recognize that there exists a wellspring of creative potential in any community that will impart a quality of authenticity to the transformed place.
  • They encourage deep citizen participation, with the goal that the place-making plan will accurately reflect the community‚Äôs needs, values and aspirations.
  • They promote collaboration among government, the local cultural sector and business organizations to identify areas of mutual interest and benefit.
  • They amplify planning and development undertakings by combining local public and private sector resources.
  • They develop a theory of change, working back from desired outcomes to identify a clear series of decisions and actions that will create the highest likelihood of success.
  • They preserve the important historical and cultural qualities and develop strategies to protect against runaway gentrification.
  • They mobilize citizen support and political will toward a community consensus on specific courses of action.
  • They identify clear outcome-based evaluation metrics that will measure progress on development strategies and will allow for needed course corrections during implementation.

Clearly, many factors must converge to ensure community revitalization. And results can be expected to take considerable time to show progress, typically five to ten years or more. But the benefits can be many. They might include:

  • The arts and creative persons thrive, with many opportunities and outlets for innovation and expression of individual creative ideas.
  • Arts-related businesses (design studios, galleries) and businesses benefiting from the arts (restaurants, boutique retail) are attracted to the area, creating local job opportunities.
  • Government policies support infrastructure development, and financial and regulatory incentives are instituted.
  • Private sector investment naturally follows, promoting commercial, industrial and residential development.
  • The forces of rising economic values and gentrification can be balanced with controls that preserve community access to the neighborhood’s cultural experiences, and that help residents and local business to “rise” along with the district.
  • And, most importantly, the social and economic health of the community is improved, enhancing the well-being of local residents.


Jerry Allen
Jerry Allen
San Francisco and Soquel, CA
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