The importance of placemaking

There are two fundamental views of economic development.  First you can try to be as cheap as possible with low standards, low wages, poor benefits, heavy subsidies, and no quality of life.  Many southern states have tried this strategy and have poor education, environment, healthcare, and quality of life.  It is a never ending race to the bottom.

The other way is to try to compete by being the best you can be and being a place where people want to or need to locate.  This is perfect or Rochester because we have unique skills, resources, and businesses.  One of the best ways to do this is a concept called placemaking.

“’Placemaking’ is both an overarching idea and a hands-on tool for improving a neighborhood, city or region. It has the potential to be one of the most transformative ideas of this century.” -Metropolitan Planning Council of Chicago

Here is a link to an article on place making. 

Placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. Put simply, it involves looking at, listening to, and asking questions of the people who live, work and play in a particular space, to discover their needs and aspirations. This information is then used to create a common vision for that place. The vision can evolve quickly into an implementation strategy, beginning with small-scale, do-able improvements that can immediately bring benefits to public spaces and the people who use them.

The Downtown Rochester Masterplan, Urban Village Guidelines, Imagine Kutzky, Imaging Eastside, Imagine Slatterly, 2nd Street Plan, and developing Uptown Plan are all examples of place making.

Here is a link to the 11 Principles of Great Community Places.

5 . Have a Vision

The vision needs to come out of each individual community. However, essential to a vision for any public space is an idea of what kinds of activities might be happening in the space, a view that the space should be comfortable and have a good image, and that it should be an important place where people want to be. It should instill a sense of pride in the people who live and work in the surrounding area.

This very strategy is what we can best use to redevelop blighted declining areas like 4H street, meadow park, the Dewitz family’s government subsidized Cimarron debacle, and others.  If you create a place where people want to be investment will follow.

Here is an article about Houston, Texas which is doubling down on on place making.

Houston has become a hot-spot by turning its planning process for public spaces upside down. Instead of using a project oriented and design-led approach, it is using a bottom up Placemaking approach. The vision for a public place is now defined by stakeholders in the community with leaders and professionals helping to implement this vision. This approach is already paying off—downtown Houston is thriving from hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment and never before have so many come downtown to enjoy the new amenties.

In Rochester we need high standards including quality, attractive public works projects (yup including trees…), great parks and green spaces as well as the connections to them, access to education, culture, and recreation.  The alternative is to get into a race with Mississippi or China in a race to the cheapest bottom.

Discovery Green opened in the spring of 2008 and soon became a magnet destination. It is estimated that more than 2.3 million people have now visited this unique public space and that the park has catalyzed nearly $1 billion dollars in nearby development, showing how Placemaking pays off.  A number of residential and commercial projects have specifically noted Discovery Green as the impetus for their investment.  For details, check out PPS’ new economic impact case study of Discovery Green which includes detailed visitor data and information on public private partnerships.


Market Square Park, in the center of downtown Houston’s Historic District, re-opened in August of 2010 after many years of disuse and a great deal of debate about what should be done to revive this public space.  Houston Downtown Management District (Downtown District), also involved in Discovery Green, worked with PPS to facilitate a Placemaking process to develop new ideas for the place.  The Downtown District then guided the translation of the stakeholders’ vision into a design and management plan for the square.


The Upper Kirby Civic Center Complex will have a variety of destinations within it including a café, a community garden and farmers market which will furnish some of the food for a new café, play area, performance space and more.


The Upper Kirby neighborhood in central Houston has steadily attracted residents and businesses in recent years. The community has long been working to create a civic and cultural hub to make the site a destination for people from across the city but when plans for a YMCA and a theater fell through, many residents were frustrated. What they didn’t realize was that the community itself held the answer to its future.

Finally here is a link to a video of a Dallas transformation.

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