Placemaking is a hot buzzword among arts administration and city management types, but outside of those communities, the term still draws a lot of blank stares and puzzled looks. The philosophy, which describes a wide variety of tactics to make cities more attractive, has become increasingly important as cities compete for residents and workers on a global scale.
“Placemaking is about creating engaging spaces that people want to be in, that make people proud and happy to be part of a unique community,” said Josh Holliday, program manager for the Arts Council of Greater Lansing.
Holliday and the Arts Council are hoping to get more of Greater Lansing thinking about placemaking with the second annual Creative Placemaking Summit. The one-day event, which kicks off 8:30 a.m. Thursday, features a lineup of local and national speakers, including MSU Federal Credit Union CEO April Clobes, developer Nick Eyde and film producer Nick Stachurski.
The goal of the event, Holliday explained, is to unite Greater Lansing artists, businesses and cultural organizations in a shared push toward placemaking.
“We really focus on the creative aspect,” Holliday explained. “How can artists, arts and cultural organizations and anyone who identifies with the cultural community help to add to the vibrancy of our neighborhoods, our downtown districts and the community as a whole?”
Locally, Lansing’s Old Town is an example of the positive effects of placemaking. Over the last 30 years, the district has transformed itself from a desolate, neglected neighborhood to a thriving shopping center. Entrepreneurship, public art, outdoor festivals and word of mouth all played a role in establishing Old Town’s reputation as a hip boutique district. More recently, Arts Council Executive Director Deborah Mikula points to Arts Night Out as a growing placemaking effort. The traveling monthly art event, which comes to downtown Lansing Friday, pairs local businesses with visual artists and performers.
“It’s a way to bring people into a community that’s free and walkable and allows you to look at an area differently,” she said.
“Those events are bringing people from surrounding communities into the urban core,” Holliday added. “All of that starts to add up and make our community stronger.”
Holliday is quick to point out that these activities have an economic impact. In the case of places like Old Town, creating a welcoming neighborhood means people stay longer to shop or come from out of town to check out the area. On a larger scale, companies recruiting workers to Greater Lansing can tout the area’s creative scene as an asset.
“When we try to attract new business to the region, we need to make sure that we’re not just selling it as a good business opportunity,” Mikula said. “Families are moving with these businesses. We want to provide a great place for them to live, work and play.”
“We have huge corporations that are trying to attract and keep the world’s greatest talent,” Holliday added. “If we don’t have a community that’s creative, unique and eclectic that people want to move to, we won’t see that.”
Keynoting Thursday’s event are Jamie Bennett, executive director of ArtPlace America, and Katherine Loflin, a consultant who has worked with cities around the world to develop innovative placemaking programs.
“I come at this from a very humanistic standpoint — I’m a social worker by education — so I really focus on this idea of belonging and how we create belonging in our places,” Loflin said.
Loflin’s latest book, “Place Match,” is designed to help people find a city that fits their specific needs and personality.
“We look for a spouse or a partner where it feels like we fit together. We look for that in our jobs and in our careers. We want to feel a sense of belonging and connectedness,” she explained. “Can I extend the idea of finding the right person to finding the right place?” Loflin takes the metaphor through the entire process, describing how someone can “date” a city to see if it’s a good fit and how to decide to “marry” the city.
“How do people get to the point where they feel like they’re truly ready to commit to a place? How do you maintain that marriage to your place? How can you keep that a vibrant relationship?” she asked. “The book tackles how you can date a place effectively, the dos and don’ts of dating the place and marrying the place.”
And like human relationships, Loflin said, things don’t always work out, and people may need to “divorce” a place.
“It’s an OK thing, and sometimes it’s for the best of both parties,” she said. “And then starting over, how do you begin again? I take it through that whole framework of relationships and apply it to place.”
Loflin, also known as “the City Doctor,” said the biggest struggles facing many Midwestern cities she has worked with is fostering diversity.
“Historically, the conversation around diversity in our places has been about tolerance,” she explained. “What I hope to do is to change that conversation to one around belonging. It’s no longer ‘I’m going to put up with you here’ or ‘I’m going to tolerate you here,’ it’s more about ‘How can we both love this place?’”
While Loflin has done some initial research on Lansing, she is waiting until she gets into town to really dig in.
“I’ve been learning a little about Lansing, but I like to come in fresh so I can really hear from the folks in the room about the strengths of this place and the opportunities for optimization,” she said. “I really rely on the people who live there. My job is to react to that, to create a roadmap based on that reconnaissance. I plan on learning a lot and hopefully adding to the conversation in a meaningful way.”
Creative Placemaking Summit
8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 6
$65/$55 Arts Council members
Lansing Center 333 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing
(517) 372-4636, lansingplacemakers.org