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Agenda Spotlight: Creative Placemaking

Sep 7, 2016
Dec 14, 2017
As part of the City of Asylum Project in Pittsburgh, local musicians parading down a newly-build trail to the river’s edge during the Jazz Poetry Festival.
As part of the City of Asylum Project in Pittsburgh, local musicians parading down a newly-build trail to the river’s edge during the Jazz Poetry Festival.

Creative placemaking is an integrative approach to urban planning and community building that stimulates local economies and leads to increased innovation, cultural diversity, and civic engagement. The practice is not as much about making creative places as it is about making places creatively. Placemaking is an art, and a good placemaker knows how to create connections, build relationships, and understand many different points of view.

Today, we’re witnessing a kind of renaissance, which in some ways has been fueled by cutbacks in arts funding. Artists are becoming more vocal, and communities are rallying to support the arts. This is leading to the creation of new alliances and new kinds of community-oriented or “social” practice artists. The arts facilitate an exploration and celebration of diversity, and when art reflects the values and visions of the community it serves, it becomes a lasting part of that community.

Memphis Levitt Pavillion
Memphis Levitt Pavillion. Every year, the Levitt Shell presents more than 50 free concerts in the heart of Midtown, Memphis | Photo via Levitt Foundation IG
“[Creative Placemaking] describes projects in which art plays an intentional and integrated role in place-based community planning and development. This brings artists, arts organizations, and artistic activity into the suite of placemaking strategies pioneered by Jane Jacobs and her colleagues, who believed that community development must be locally informed, human-centric, and holistic.” –ArtPlace America

Great places are sources of inspiration, and public art can be an avenue for artists to express themselves and their complex relationships to that place. Since communities are increasingly seeking out artists who activate public spaces, community support has great economic value for artists. Providing welcome alternatives to traditional museums and art venues, art in public spaces adds value to the shared public realm, and the benefits of creative placemaking projects are numerous. They can attract people to a particular area, increasing foot traffic and economic activity; they stimulate discussion and create learning opportunities for community members and visitors; they might fill empty storefronts, buildings, lots, and other vacant areas, reducing vandalism and increasing sense of safety; and they can serve as landmarks for wayfinding, facilitating place identity and attachment.

Ballot Box Project in Cleveland, Ohio. Supported by ArtPlace America, Cleveland’s Northeast Shores Development Corporation uses surveys to determine how residents perceive neighborhood change. Along with these surveys, the “Ballot Box Project” has increased community engagement overall and helped convince local funders to continue supporting Northeast Shores’ work | Photo via Bob Perkowski
Ballot Box Project in Cleveland, Ohio. Supported by ArtPlace America, Cleveland’s Northeast Shores Development Corporation uses surveys to determine how residents perceive neighborhood change. Along with these surveys, the “Ballot Box Project” has increased community engagement overall and helped convince local funders to continue supporting Northeast Shores’ work | Photo via Bob Perkowski

Looking Ahead: Challenges and Opportunities

“It’s not simply that the arts promote social well-being; they are indispensable elements of social well-being. Just as you can’t strip out health or housing or transportation from social well-being, neither can you remove the arts.” -Mark J. Stern, Professor of Social Policy and History, University of Pennsylvania

The benefits of using arts and culture to tap into a place’s unique character extend well beyond the art world. Across sectors and at all levels, today’s leaders and policymakers are increasingly recognizing how arts-based placemaking initiatives can simultaneously advance their missions in transportation, housing, employment, health care, environmental sustainability, and education.

Today, the cause of arts-based placemaking is popular and widely recognized, and it continues to be generously supported by organizations such as the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), The Kresge Foundation, ArtPlace America, and others. As many creative placemaking projects mature, however, it can be challenging for grant givers and their recipients to find consistent ways to measure the outcomes and impacts of these projects. Further, project managers in many communities often lack the necessary funding, resources, and guidelines with which to collect consistent data and track changes.

For most creative placemaking projects, the data itself doesn’t tell the full story. Broad, industry-level indicators only tell us what has changed in a community, not why these changes have occurred. 

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