Actions for Streets as Places
How Community Makes it Happen
Every community has assets and talent that can be showcased on its streets, whether that’s through art, performance, street amenities, or special events. Not only do these activities create more vibrant and social streets, but they also help to make a place feel unique and unlike anywhere else – giving it a feeling of “authenticity,” which is a crucial ingredient for building place attachment.
Some of PPS’s best partners through the years have been institutions like libraries, museums, and Main Street associations who have a deep understanding of how sidewalks and streets can be home to the “spillover” of indoor activity. “Bringing the inside out” is an important – and often easy – strategy for activating a street, attracting foot traffic, and introducing new audiences to programming and products.
That’s how Streets as Places starts in a neighborhood – small actions by a few committed, visionary people, or “zealous nuts,” as PPS likes to call them. But when that action leads to or evolves from a broader community vision for a street or area, the result is much more powerful. As PPS president Fred Kent likes to say: “It takes a community to create a place, and a place to create community.” When residents, businesses, local institutions, and community groups work together, they bring a rich set of viewpoints, resources, and expertise both to their streets and to each other.
Below are some ideas for how such groups can create Streets as Places; other pages in this resource also discuss the important role that individuals and government play in activating streets. Help us add other examples to this page! Add your suggestions about other ways people can create streets that bring people together in the comments section, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Activate the Space in Front of Your Business or Place of Work
Put Out Seats or Benches
In advocating for informal seating around the New York City, a group called Street Seats curates an open-source database of a variety of street seating around the city, which includes a map, photos, and blog. The group wants the project to be an inspiration for people interested in enriching the public realm in their neighborhood. The blog features an example from the corner of Fairmount Avenue and Clark Street in the Mile End neighborhood of Montreal, where numerous brightly colored street seats encourage lingering and interaction.
Bring the Inside Outside
Organize a Movie Night. The William P. Faust Public Library in Westland, Michigan had been running a regular indoor movie night, which attracted a small but devoted following. After brainstorming with local stakeholders and community partners, the library team decided to extend this programming beyond the library’s four walls and into its existing (but underutilized) patio and surrounding green space. Westland’s first Outside the Box program, supported by PPS in partnership with library service non-profit OCLC and Redbox, was a family-themed outdoor movie event with arts and craft activities for kids and a post-screening juried art contest. Local businesses provided free snacks and popcorn, to be enjoyed on new tables and chairs in the “snack area,” while movie-goers set up their own picnic blankets and lawn chairs on the library lawn.
Display merchandise on the sidewalk. Outdoor retail displays are a win-win to boost business, attract new customers, and activate the street. Whether it’s clothing, children’s toys, furniture, or fruit, displaying a shop’s goods outside encourages foot traffic and lingering. Strand Bookstore in New York City’s Greenwich Village is famed for its outdoor book racks, which are a great place to hunt for deals, uncover interesting finds, and strike up conversation with another book lover.
Host an Outdoor Reading Room. The New York Public Library has offered a variety of opportunities to experience the library outdoors over the years, including “book mobiles,” rooftop reading areas, and an outdoor reading room that opened in the 1930s. In the summer of 2015, the library opened a new Outdoor Reading Room in a plaza on 5th Avenue, which was outfitted with colorful seating and umbrellas, and offered a selection of librarian-recommended books. Programming like author talks, readings, storytelling and performances helped to enliven the space while food trucks were stationed nearby to help create a community destination outside the library.
Sponsor a Parklet or Local Plaza
In Chicago, the People Spots program allows businesses to install parklets – parking spaces converted into small public spaces in front of their business. The result has been more foot traffic, more attention for the business, and a place for people to linger.
2. Start a Dialogue
Host a Placemaking Speaker Series
The Columbia Association, a non-profit organization that manages community services in Columbia, MD, hosts a Community Building Speaker Series that has featured discussions on how investment in cultural facilities and programming has helped recast communities across the country, improving their vitality and prosperity. Such speaker series can help to inspire new ideas in a neighborhood and spark conversations and interest in placemaking.
Organize a Training or Workshop
In October 2015, the Arts Council of Greater Lansing, Michigan hosted a Creative Placemaking Summit. Featuring sessions that focused on placemaking strategies, ideas, successes, and challenges, the Summit gave participants a forum in which to exchange ideas, seek advice, and make connections within the placemaking movement.
3. Organize Your Community
Start a Campaign
“What’s your street for?” is the motto of Seattle’s Streets for People Campaign. Launched in 2010 as a partnership between several nonprofit organizations, the goal of this campaign is to connect, convene, and inspire a new conversation about how Seattle’s streets can best be used as public spaces for people, and to advocate for supportive City plans, policies, and programs.
Organize A Neighborhood Group or Block Association
Working to address the community’s needs through events, activities, and advocacy, the Park Slope Civic Council in Brooklyn, New York, has promoted a better Park Slope neighborhood for over 100 years. Recently, the Civic Council has focused on street-oriented actions such as hosting an annual Halloween parade, advocating for livable streets, organizing the community to make Fourth Avenue a beautiful and safe boulevard, supporting a local plaza, and providing input about the redesign of a redevelopment site.
Build Support for a Community or Business Improvement District
In Saint Louis, Missouri, the Grove Community Improvement District (CID) provides services and programming to foster vibrant public street life. Similar to a Business Improvement District, but organized by both residential and commercial property owners, the Grove CID is funded primarily by a retail sales tax in the district, and through an annual special assessment on District real estate. The CID manages local security, landscaping and beautification, business marketing, and special events in the district, including outdoor festivals and street performances.
Hold Neighborhood Planning Assemblies
Feeling that the New Hampshire town of Littleton’s small town character was in jeopardy due to sprawl and traffic, the town worked with residents to create a vision for Littleton’s downtown. Business people, students, teachers, and other residents met at the opera house, the local diner, the community house, the senior center, and the elementary school to analyze potential improvements to places on and around Littleton’s Main Street. The result was a downtown plan that included more frequent crosswalks, wider sidewalks, improved streetscape amenities, and more gathering places for people to stop and rest in an effort to create a renewed sense of place in the community.
4. Raise Money to Fund Streets as Places Improvements
Generate New Local Funding Streams
Several San Francisco neighborhoods are working to adapt the Community Benefit District (CBD) and Business Improvement District (BID) concepts to residential neighborhoods in a new Green Benefit District Program in the Dogpatch/NW Potrero Hill neighborhood. A local nonprofit organization, Build Public, worked with residents, city agencies and District 10. Supervisor Malia Cohen to help establish the program in 2015, which places an assessment on local property owners to raise revenue for neighborhood improvements such as sidewalks and plazas.
Start a Crowdfunding Campaign
Building on the idea of supporting projects “in our backyard,” the New York City based organization ioby connects residents with crowdsourced funding and support to help grow and implement good ideas to improve communities. Ioby collects donations for projects and organizes resources to help projects come to fruition. A recent ioby project in Brooklyn, NY aimed to improve the dilapidated 4th Avenue/9th Street subway station. The project raised over $3,000, which supported a one-day makeover demonstrating the potential of the station, including mock storefronts, public art, and interactive media.
5. Encourage Community Art and Performance on Your Streets
Host an Arts Festival
Burlington, Vermont’s South End Arts and Business Association hosts an annual arts festival called the Art Hop, which highlights galleries, studios, and exhibitions along the Pine Street arts corridor. The Art Hop, which also includes food and art vendors, outdoor exhibitions, and performances, attracts thousands of people to the street during the festival.
Create a Street or Alley of Art
Paint murals. In 1992, artists in the North Mission neighborhood of San Francisco, California got together to paint murals in Clarion Alley, a short alley between Mission and Valencia Streets, and to facilitate other artists’ contributions. Since then, this initiative has evolved into Clarion Alley Mural Project, and the Alley has become an impressive display of public art and a popular destination. It also hosts an annual block party. Beyond beautifying and activating this small street, the mural project has brought artists and residents together to create the art, which has helped to build local community connections.
Organize art installations. In October 2015, Pearl Street Passage was a central project of the DesignPhiladelphia arts festival, an event hosted by the Philadelphia chapter of the American Institute of Architects. The Passage featured ten art installations along a block of Pearl Street, created by multidisciplinary teams of architects, designers, artists, and fabricators. Over four days, performances and programming helped to attract thousands of visitors to this reclaimed street space.
Organize Local Performances and Events
STooPS is an annual community-building event in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn that promotes social interaction among artists, homeowners, residents, and businesses of the Bed-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn. For the event, Bed-Stuy residents collaborate with local artists to host mini-performances and art showcases on their stoops, yards, or sidewalks.
6. Make Over Vacant Lots
Several years ago, Detroit resident Mark Covington began cleaning up a vacant lot near his grandmother’s house on Georgia Street as a means to beautify the space. Seeing the potential for a community garden in the lot, Mark worked with volunteers, gardening organizations, and the DetroitYes! network to eventually create a five-lot garden with the vision of revitalizing the neighborhood and providing opportunities for youth. The project, which evolved into the Georgia Street Community Collective, has continued to grow and now hosts a range of projects, including student mentoring, coat giveaways, annual dinners, and the cultivation of a fruit orchard, goats, and chickens.
7. Throw a Street Party
In Mumbai, India, the nonprofit organization EMBARQ India and community partners, wary of the city streets being taken over by private automobiles and wanting to return them to public use, initiated Equal Streets in November 2014. Equal Streets closes lanes on a handful of connected streets in Mumbai to motorized traffic, programming the street with performances, dancing, yoga, and aerobics. Every week, Equal Streets activities are aligned with a particular theme, ranging from urban tree cover to the safety and accessibility of women using public transportation. By the fourth Sunday of Equal Streets, 40,000 people had participated in the event.
8. Organize a Demonstration Project
Participate in PARK(ing) Day
PARK(ing) Day is an annual international event where on-street parking spaces are converted into park-like public spaces for a day. The initiative is intended to draw attention to the sheer amount of space devoted to the storage of private automobiles, and to give people the opportunity to reimagine how street space is used. Projects often include street seating, homemade art, plants, turf, food, and games.
Build a Better Block
The Better Block project is an open-source resource for communities that wish to revitalize a block or public space. Better Block encourages people to build coalitions of grassroots community activists, nonprofit groups, businesses, artists, and do-it-yourselfers to address the safety, accessibility, attractions, and diverse amenities of local streets. A 2012 project in San Antonio transformed West Commerce Street for one day by reducing the street from four vehicle lanes to three, using the extra space to install temporary bulb-outs and landscaping, expanded pedestrian space, street furniture, games, and an outdoor market in a parking lot.
Dine in the Street
In Akron, Ohio, the Innerbelt Freeway is slated to be closed to car traffic in 2016 due to lack of use. This means the space will be available for potential new uses, and it is a chance for Akron’s community to reclaim the freeway as a vibrant public space. With this in mind, artist Frank Hunter organized a 500-person dinner party on the freeway during a temporary closure. Residents from 22 neighborhoods gathered for dinner at one enormous table while they discussed their visions for transforming the freeway.
Help us add other examples to this page! Add your suggestions about other ways people, groups, and governments can foster Streets as Places. Or, submit your own examples of great streets in the comments section or by emailing email@example.com