Heart of the Community
Investing in Placemaking
Heart of the Community is a signature outreach program of Southwest Airlines with a mission to build connections that bring people together and strengthen communities for a more resilient future.
Launched in 2014 with lead partner, Project for Public Spaces, the Heart of the Community grants provide financial and technical assistance to local community partners who seek to bring new life to their public spaces.
Southwest Airlines is in the business of connecting people to what’s important in their lives, whether it be to people or to places. By supporting central, vibrant, active public spaces, the Heart of the Community grants facilitate connections, which are the foundation for more resilient communities.
The goals of the Heart of the Community grants are to:
- Help communities bring new life to their public spaces, transforming them into vibrant places that connect people and strengthen communities
- Raise awareness of Placemaking as a mainstream approach and a catalyst for building sustainable, healthy, inclusive, and economically viable communities
- Encourage activation, participation, and volunteerism in public spaces to benefit local communities
A Breakout Moment
At Project for Public Spaces, we have been helping people create and sustain public spaces that build stronger communities for almost 40 years. Over that time, we’ve seen Placemaking grow into an international movement. It’s a movement that needs the energy and input of people in all walks of life to get us to the point where every community is empowered to shape its own public spaces.
The Heart of the Community program is a breakout moment for Placemaking, and the partnership was highlighted in the 2015 United States Conference of Mayors Business Council Best Practice Report: Mayors and Businesses Driving Economic Growth. By investing in Placemaking, supporting important research, and engaging their thousands of Employees in Placemaking volunteer efforts, Southwest Airlines is making a bold statement about the vital role public spaces play in our communities.
Applications for 2017 Projects
Have questions about the program or interested in applying?
Please refer to our program explanation and eligibility criteria page to sign up for program notifications.
Applications for 2017 Heart of the Community grants will be available the final week of October 2016.
Southwest Airlines and PPS collaborated with the Downtown Detroit Partnership to help bring a taste of the northern Michigan beaches to the center of downtown Detroit for all to enjoy. Building on other “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper” Placemaking efforts in the area, we transformed an underutilized lawn in Campus Martius Park into a seasonal beach that includes a curved deck with colorful seating, a Beach Bar and Grille, and a large sand-filled area with lounge chairs, umbrellas, and an extra-long shared table. The beach serves as a fun and relaxing community gathering place for workers, visitors, families and children during the summer months. Programming at the beach includes aerobics classes, sand castle building, live musical performances, and lots of informal play in the sun and sand.
These Placemaking activities in Campus Martius Park support the Downtown Detroit Partnership’s broader efforts to activate public spaces in unique and creative ways to engage the local community and bring new energy to downtown Detroit.
“It’s all about activating public spaces, including parks, streets and sidewalks, so people have a great experience in the public space…The point of it is to revitalize downtown Detroit and the city of Detroit by getting people outside and enjoying their city…”
– Bob Gregory, senior vice president of the Downtown Detroit Partnership
“A traffic island in the heart of downtown Detroit has been transformed into an urban beach…”
– USA Today
Southwest Airlines and PPS partnered with the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy and the City of Providence to expand family friendly activities in Burnside Park, located in the heart of downtown Providence in Greater Kennedy Plaza. Based on a series of community-led Placemaking efforts, we developed the Imagination Center, a fun destination that brings people together for activities like storytime, arts and crafts workshops, interactive play, live performances, and more. The Center is surrounded by colorful picnic tables, planting beds, and a wooden deck and includes book carts, beanbag seating, and an Imagination Playground play set.
The Imagination Center builds on several years of Placemaking efforts in Burnside Park including a weekly farmer’s market, lunchtime food truck market, regular family activities, a weekly beer garden and concert series, and special events. These Placemaking activities in Burnside Park support the City of Providence’s broader efforts to transform its entire downtown into a lively economic and cultural center through the development of exceptional public spaces.
“The Imagination Center provides the home base we desperately needed to expand and enrich our family activities in Burnside Park – it is now the key place in our Placemaking efforts for the park.”
– Jennifer Smith, Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy
“The opening of the Imagination Center advances our efforts to revitalize Kennedy Plaza and make downtown Providence a more vibrant cultural and commercial gateway to our Capital City. Working together and in partnership with Southwest Airlines, we are improving our downtown public spaces and providing more opportunities to play, recreate, dine and enjoy spending time in Kennedy Plaza.”
– Providence Mayor Angel Taveras
“The center features children’s books and play areas with nearby planting beds, picnic tables and a playground…It’s part of a larger effort to improve the park and Kennedy Plaza, open spaces in the heart of the city.”
– Associated Press
Southwest Airlines and PPS worked with the City of San Antonio’s Center City Development & Operations Department to activate historic Travis Park, located in the heart of downtown San Antonio. Based on feedback received during a series of public Placemaking workshops, Travis Park will now attract local residents and employees through new physical amenities, including games, umbrellas, movable tables and chairs, and ongoing public programming, such as fitness classes, historic tours, live music, free movies and game tournaments.
These Placemaking efforts have sparked a number of additional improvement projects to enhance the park experience at Travis Park and supported the City of San Antonio’s broader efforts to strengthen its downtown.
“The revitalization of Travis Park will make the urban core more attractive for locals and tourists alike... By engaging both the public and private sectors, we are creating a vibrant community hub in the heart of downtown.”
– Julián Castro, former Mayor of San Antonio, current U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Although it sits at the busiest intersection in downtown Baltimore, until recently Pratt and Light Plaza was barely on the map. Since June 2014, Southwest Airlines and PPS have been working with the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore to transform this previously unremarkable plaza into Baltimore’s “Front Stoop.” Located just adjacent to the inner harbor, the new and lively hangout invites all of Downtown—residents, office workers, transit riders, shoppers, tourists, motorists driving into town, and pre and post-game Orioles and Ravens crowds—to pause and enjoy.
Through an ongoing process of community engagement, thousands of Baltimore residents are helping to shape a new vision for their plaza. It has become a stage for the bustling local art scene, home to an expanded seasonal farmers’ market, and a place to relax and meet friends. In an area of town mainly geared toward visitors and tourists, Pratt and Light Plaza plays a particularly important role in showcasing the authentic “Charm City.”
Southwest Airlines Heart of the Community has helped to fund new movable furniture, permanent “plank” benches and planters, a shipping container kiosk and deck, and interactive art cubes, curated by the Baltimore Museum of Art. The changes have helped Pratt and Light Plaza to become a more welcoming and comfortable place, as well as a more prominent venue for special events and gatherings. Hosting everything from promotional events for local sports teams to holiday craft markets, community conversations, and political protests, Pratt and Light is on its way to becoming the “town square” that Baltimore needs.
Southwest Airlines and PPS have partnered with the University of Chicago’s Arts + Public Life initiative to reimagine a vacant lot in Chicago’s Washington Park neighborhood as a public space and the site of a Summer Pavilion designed by MAS Studio. The project is located directly across from the Arts + Public Life’s groundbreaking Arts Incubator and complements its focus on providing active and stimulating programming for the residents of Chicago's South Side and beyond. Informed by a series of workshops and events with neighbors and community groups, vibrant daily use of the Washington Park Arts Pavilion garden will be supported by new amenities such as benches, tables, chairs, and shading, flexible lawn space, and a rain garden. In addition to casual community gatherings, the Arts Incubator, working with other area organizations, will provide a dynamic program of activities featuring performances, music, outdoor movies, artist workshops, etc. The amenities for the site are being designed by Chicago-based artisans, and will be produced this summer with help from local students participating in the Incubator’s Design Apprenticeship Program. The Washington Park Arts Pavilion garden is scheduled to open in early summer.
The Washington Park Arts Pavilion is a major step in University of Chicago’s long-term commitment to breathing new life along Garfield Boulevard—long a neglected corridor. This project provides a critical space for efforts to reach out and empower this vibrant but in-need community, as well as a place the neighborhood as a whole can take proud ownership of.
Southwest Airlines and PPS partnered with the Balboa Park Conservancy to activate the Plaza de Panama at the very heart of Balboa Park. The Plaza’s location is unbeatable—it sits at the pedestrian gateway along El Prado, the main boulevard, and is surrounded on all sides by cultural institutions and attractions, including the San Diego Museum of Art, Sculpture Court Café, Mingei International Museum, The Timken Museum of Art, and the park visitor center. Yet despite its prime setting, the Plaza was a largely empty expanse, having recently been converted from a parking lot.
In response to valuable input from stakeholders, Heart of the Community enhanced the Plaza so that it now caters to the millions of annual guests to Balboa Park and the institutions it houses. Improvements include new amenities like tables, chairs, umbrellas, benches, games, and an “outdoor living room” and lawn for lounging. Specially-crafted presentation panels allow the adjacent museums to have their collections and exhibits spill outside in to the public realm. Ample open space has been preserved to host performances and special events from the city at large.
The Plaza showcases and celebrates the diverse identity of the Balboa Park community and San Diego, providing a place for residents and visitors to relax and soak in the incredible civic treasure all around them. As Balboa Park celebrates the 100th anniversary of the monumental 1915 Panama-California Exhibition, the additions to Plaza de Panama help elevate the Park as one of the world’s top destinations.
Albuquerque’s Civic Plaza hasn’t always been on the radar as a great place to be. But in April 2015 a transformation began: Southwest Airlines and PPS partnered with individuals and organizations including the DowntownABQ MainStreet Initiative, the Albuquerque Convention Center, and students at the University of New Mexico, to turn the vast and relatively empty site into a place where locals can connect, express themselves, and build community. The collaboration between these organizations has been greater than the sum of its parts: together, they have designed and installed moveable furniture, organized dozens of events including ABQ Food Fridays, and bolstered management capacity to ensure that activity in the plaza can become self-sustainable.
The launch event, held the following October, marked the establishment of the Friends of Civic Plaza. Thousands of Albuquerqueans gathered to enjoy their new favorite place. Most importantly, the community has come to feel at home at Civic Plaza. “Up until this project,” explained Lola Bird, Executive Director of DowntownABQ, “I don’t think the community knew that we could own something.”
The plaza has become a catalyst for downtown improvement and the heart of a network of destinations, including a new multi-purpose arena that will be built in one of the neighboring Convention Center buildings. Expanding on the momentum of the Southwest Airlines Heart of the Community project, the mayor has announced new plans for an extensive, community-driven renovation of the site. This story is emblematic of how Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper strategies can work: collaboration, community, and creativity can make just a little push go a very long way.
"The problem is, we've got so much momentum, and now we have to manage it. I'm getting hit up every day by somebody who wants to do something there."
– Lola Bird, Executive Director of Downtown Albuquerque
Southwest Airlines and Project for Public Spaces are working with the Lee County Library System to bring fresh Placemaking ideas to the recently-completed Cornog Plaza, located on the grounds of the new Ft. Myers Regional Library. PPS participated in the design of the new downtown library and developed the concepts for the public spaces. We are thrilled to be able to refine and augment our original work by assisting the Lee County Library System with transforming the new plaza into a vibrant community hub. Working with the Library community and the people who live, work, play and relax in downtown Ft. Myers, we will expand amenities, tailor events, identify library and other programs that best utilize the new spaces around the library.
The goal of this effort is to establish Cornog Plaza as a welcoming downtown anchor and a great place that can serve as an inspiring new model of a dynamic urban space in Southwest Florida.
2016 is Hemming Park’s is 150th birthday. Throughout the year, The Friends of Hemming Park are hosting a wide variety of events including daily rotating food trucks, activities for kids, and performances by local musicians and dancers. Until recently, though, the place was not always so celebrated; for decades it suffered from a bad reputation, perceived by many locals as unsafe and unattractive. Recognizing a general trend of social and economic decline in the vicinity, the City of Jacksonville identified Hemming Park as the starting point for saving the city’s downtown. Southwest Airlines and Project for Public Spaces have partnered with the Friends of Hemming Park to reimagine the public space as a thriving community hub and a top destination, utilizing Placemaking as a catalyst for positive change.
Engaging neighbors is a key ingredient in the success of a public space. The park is adjacent to Jacksonville’s Central Library, the Museum of Contemporary Art, City Hall, and many other potential partners. Southwest Airlines Heart of the Community has supported the Friends of Hemming Park in an intensive community visioning process and in cultivating institutional collaborations, which has led to exciting new activity at the park as well as a burgeoning sense of community ownership. With the support of the Southwest Airlines Heart of the Community program, the Friends have developed innovative programming, such as a popular beer garden, as well as new physical elements, including a restaurant kiosk built from shipping containers and a new Imagination Playground. Since receiving the grant, the Friends have attracted additional substantial funding for the park’s development. Hemming Park, once a place to be avoided, is now Jacksonville’s place to be.
The historic Foro Lindbergh, part of Parque México, is a prominent plaza with enormous potential to become a truly great public space for the people of Mexico City. While the plaza has been recently restored, it lacks flexible amenities and deeper engagement with residents and stakeholders. PPS will collaborate with Lugares Públicos and the Delegación Cuauhtémoc to leverage this potential, and to transform the space into a place locals love to be.
The team is dedicated to creating a shared vision for Foro Lindbergh—named in honor of the pioneering aviator, Charles Lindbergh—together with the local community. A series of dynamic workshops will shape new public programming and amenities to enhance the vitality and functionality of the plaza. A broader range of activities and a strengthened sense of community will attract residents and visitors alike.
A successful community-driven Placemaking process at Foro Lindbergh would be a critical new approach for the city. As a major iconic destination drawing visitors from around the “D.F.,” it could have a catalytic impact city-wide.
On a downtown site once seen as a “black hole”, Milwaukee’s newest, most unexpected and most unconventional public space is emerging. An asphalt desert at the corner of N. 5th Street and W. Wisconsin Avenue has been transformed into TheSpot4MKE: a fun and flexible place for all Milwaukeeans to meet and celebrate the arts, culture, and character of their city. The community has claimed the pavement as a vivid civic canvas, and new furniture provides a comfortable perch to savor a meal from a visiting food truck or watch the local samba drum group’s weekly outdoor rehearsal. A repurposed vintage trailer is now a home base for artists in residence, and supports daily activities including games, concerts, and gatherings.
Prior to receiving support from the Southwest Airlines Heart of the Community Program, Creative Alliance Milwaukee (CAM) led a robust public engagement and visioning process where thousands of Milwaukeeans shared their creative ideas. The community collectively determined that the best use for the parking lot was an active and flexible public space. The next step was to test this revolutionary idea using a people-focused Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper approach. Today, with a full season of programming under their belts, CAM and their partners are planning a promising future for The Spot 4MKE, and are working to expand on the inspiring and dramatic change they’ve already sparked.
Although Congress Square Park sits in the heart of Portland’s arts district, until recently the place was unremarkable and desolate. It had fallen into disrepair, was noticed by nearly no one, and the city was proposing to sell part of the site for private development. But an energized grassroots campaign, orchestrated by the Friends of Congress Square Park, spurred newfound attention and appreciation for the park, which ultimately led to its preservation. While the Friends’ campaign reversed municipal plans and raised awareness of community-driven public space in general, Congress Square Park still lacked necessary resources beyond a dedicated group of volunteers.
With support from Southwest Airlines Heart of the Community, the Friends of Congress Square Park have built on the campaign’s momentum. They have implemented Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper interventions, regular collaborative programming, active management, and new outdoor furniture and activities. This work has established the park as a key destination for Portland’s residents and visitors, featuring local businesses, cultural institutions, and Portland’s bustling local arts scene. Congress Square Park – arguably Maine’s most urban public space – can finally and proudly claim this title.
Today, thanks to these efforts, the City of Portland and Friends of Congress Square Park are pursuing a new design for the park, its adjacent public spaces and a more pedestrian-friendly intersection. They aim to spread the life and energy of Congress Square Park, and the spirit of Placemaking, throughout the neighborhood to create a more dynamic downtown hub.
Grand Center, the historic arts district located in the heart of St. Louis, is most definitely a neighborhood with bragging rights. It is home to 13,000 theater seats, 15 visual arts institutions, over 40 arts organizations, and an active restaurant scene. You might not feel this cultural richness, though, while wandering the district’s streets and public spaces. In order to bring the vibrant indoor cultural scene outside, and to revive Grand Center’s pedestrian experience, Southwest Airlines and Project for Public Spaces have partnered with Grand Center, Inc., the City’s designated agent for restoring the neighborhood to its legendary 20th century pinnacle.
The Southwest Airlines Heart of the Community project focuses specifically on Strauss Park, a charming but underutilized place at the neighborhood’s center, lined with restaurants, a community radio station (KDHX), the nationally renowned performance venue Jazz at the Bistro, offices, and shops. The park’s improvement goes hand in hand with Grand Center’s ongoing development of the Arts and Music Promenade, a Placemaking project which will knit cultural assets together through a tapestry of lively outdoor public spaces.
Together with a coalition of neighborhood partners, PPS and Grand Center Inc. are developing a new collaborative vision for Strauss Park. Based on community input, this new approach will better accommodate pedestrian flow, improve accessibility, and invite passersby to engage and pause in the place. A new wooden platform acts as both a bridge between topographical levels and a flexible performance area for a variety of events and programs. The Placemaking process has strengthened community ties between residents, artists, and neighboring institutions, and Strauss Park is on its way to becoming the showcase for the district's the extraordinary creative energy.
Woodruff Park is poised to become the popular, lively, dynamic gathering place Atlanta’s resurging downtown deserves. With support from the Southwest Airlines Heart of the Community program, Central Atlanta Progress will collaborate with the people who work, study, live in and care about downtown Atlanta to build a shared vision for improving the park. Woodruff Park is at the heart of Atlanta’s rapidly changing downtown, with Georgia State University’s new Media Production Center coming to the Sun Trust Building and the recently opened Microsoft Innovation Center in the historic Flatiron building, along with a number of surrounding ongoing renovations. Working with stakeholders and community members, Central Atlanta Progress aims to attract more people to the park, enhance and diversify its existing programs, support daily activities, and improve both its image and perception.
“While the park has improved since the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District assumed responsibility from the City of Atlanta in 2004, it has not yet reached its full potential to be a great public space. But this grant will help us make Woodruff Park the place we all know it can be.”
– A.J. Robinson, President of Central Atlanta Progress
Indianapolis City Market and Big Car Collaborative, two outstanding partners in the city, are joining forces to enhance and connect the City Market Plaza with Monument Circle, two prime downtown sites within a five-minute walk of one another. This catalytic grant from the Southwest Airlines Heart of the Community program will enable the organizations to collaboratively implement their plans to engage the public and enliven the public spaces in the emerging Market East District. The City Market – which supports a thriving local food scene and hosts a bustling weekly farmers’ market – and Monument Circle welcome exciting programming and new amenities in tandem with the second annual Spark festival, during which Big Car and the City of Indianapolis will test a variety of creative programming and temporary infrastructure improvements. This year, Spark at Monument Circle will expand from its 11-week span in 2015 to a full six months. Through this unique opportunity to build a shared vision for the general Market East District, Big Car and City Market aim to strengthen connections between Indianapolitans and their city, and to generate a greater sense of belonging and inclusion through the co-creation of great public spaces.
“This generous grant provides City Market officials the opportunity to activate a unique space that has been dormant and without a soul for too long... We have a great opportunity to augment what is planned for the Market East District, we are excited to provide more amenities for people living, working and visiting downtown to enjoy”
– Stevi Stoesz, Executive Director, Indianapolis City Market
“We’re very excited to be returning to downtown in partnership, again with the City of Indianapolis and now with our friends at our wonderful, historic City Market.”
– Jim Walker, Founder and Executive Director, Big Car Collaborative
Pershing Square is LA’s oldest and most revered public space. Extending over an entire downtown city block in the heart of the city’s historic core, which includes the Jewelry District, Bunker Hill, and the Civic Center, the park has undergone multiple redesigns, the most recent of which was an extensive overhaul nearly 25 years ago. Pershing Square Renew, a public-private partnership, was initiated by Councilmember Jose Huizar in 2015 to ensure that the park, which already hosts a series of farmers’ markets, concerts, and an ice rink, continues to play an integral part of the ongoing Downtown Los Angeles renaissance. The Southwest Airlines Heart of the Community grant will support Pershing Square Renew in its work to ensure that the ongoing international design competition for the space will be informed by a range of community partners, in order to best serve Angelenos’ needs. By incorporating a community vision into this process, Pershing Square Renew will be able to demonstrate the power of placemaking in connecting people and strengthening communities for public spaces across the city.
“One of the objectives my office has worked on in a rapidly growing Downtown Los Angeles is increased placemaking as a way to identify and promote our distinct Downtown communities and landmarks. Southwest Airlines’ support will help us achieve those goals at Pershing Square where we are reimagining and re-envisioning the City’s oldest park so that thousands upon thousands of Angelenos and visitors can rediscover this City of Los Angeles' treasure.”
– Los Angeles City Councilmember José Huizar
The Hennepin Theatre Trust is spearheading a community-led vision for “5 to 10 on Hennepin” to transform the five-block stretch of Hennepin Avenue between Fifth to Tenth Streets and part of the WeDo™ Cultural District into a place where all Minneapolitans can feel welcome and comfortable. The Southwest Airlines Heart of the Community grant will enable the Trust to identify and introduce new elements to the area, in support of a range of multicultural offerings, dynamic public art, and increased greening efforts. “5 to 10 on Hennepin” will engage the community in reimagining the street as a destination that can provide unexpected opportunities for expression, and for coming together.
“As we activate the larger WeDo™ Cultural District initiative, we have an opportunity to create a significant impact in a designated area and build on the success for the future. We’re lucky to partner with national experts of public space planning which will bring tangible benefits to our local community.”
–Tom Hoch, Hennepin Theatre Trust President and CEO
The Courtyard at the center of Philadelphia’s iconic City Hall will be transformed into an engaging and interactive civic commons that celebrates the city’s rich history and its sustainable future. The Southwest Airlines Heart of the Community grant will jump-start a local partnership, led by the City of Philadelphia and the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia, which will develop and implement a community-led placemaking initiative that promotes educational opportunities, creativity, and inclusivity. This project will complete the vision for a cohesive network of public spaces in the heart of Philadelphia, building on recent investments in City Hall and its surroundings, and drawing upon the successes of the city’s Philadelphia2035 and Green City, Clean Waters plans, which bring together the public, city agencies, elected officials, and major institutions to develop a blueprint for a sustainable and resilient 21st-century city. This unique partnership will welcome all Philadelphians to take part in shaping the heart of their city and its bright future.
“I thank Southwest Airlines for their generosity. We now have a special opportunity to invite residents and visitors into City Hall’s ‘living room’ and ensure it serves our community as a vibrant and engaging public space.”
–Jim Kenney, Mayor of Philadelpia
PLACES IN THE MAKING
Southwest Airlines provided a gift to MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning to support the research white paper – “Places in the Making” – which reveals how Placemaking has helped strengthen communities across the country. The research “examines the interactions between Placemaking, community participation, and the expanding ways communities are collaborating to make great public spaces.” It outlines a range of case studies – from Houston’s Discovery Green to New York City’s Corona Plaza – to offer a snapshot of Placemaking projects across the United States and showcase common elements essential to successful public places.
“Places in the Making” was released at an event in Cambridge, MA, on October 22, 2013, that featured a panel discussion of leading experts from MIT, Project for Public Spaces, Team Better Block, and The Kresge Foundation, and was moderated by The Wall Street Journal.
“Placemaking puts power back in the hands of the people. The most successful Placemaking initiatives transcend the ‘place’ to forefront the ‘making,’ and the benefits for community can be substantial and long-lasting.”
– Susan Silberberg, Lead Researcher and Lecturer, MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning
Project for Public Spaces (PPS) is the central hub of the global Placemaking movement, connecting people to ideas, expertise, and partners who share a passion for creating vital places.