COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space

Civic Institutions as Community Anchors

Jan 1, 2009
Dec 19, 2017
Rathaus City Hall in Vienna, Austria

The Importance of Place

Civic buildings, particularly museums and libraries, are already using world renowned architects who are designing iconic architecture to make a statement about the importance of their facilities. However, very few have tried to use the architecture to create a place. Mimi Gates, the director of the Seattle Art Museum envisions the ground floor of her museum as the “town square” where ideas can be discussed and where the community can gather for a multitude of reasons.  The norm, however, is designing buildings with blank walls around their perimeters with few ground floor uses, such as cafes, book and gift shops, resource centers, etc. that would attract passersby, serve the community and support the context and street life in the areas proximate to it. Moving towards and architecture of place can transform civic buildings into key anchors of their communities.

Institutions as Community Anchors

Placemaking around community anchors is an important way to reinvigorate city centers and downtowns. Civic institutions and public spaces can once again become vibrant destinations as well as catalysts for revitalizing the neighborhoods around them. Until the recent economic downturn, many cities had come to rely almost exclusively on private development for their growth and economic vitality. As this source capital funding diminishes, the need for finding other partners becomes paramount to a city’s survival. At the same time, developers need to be attracted back to city centers where they may find new and innovative opportunities for investment in places that already have many assets upon which to build and where there are ready partners who are in agreement on a way forward.

Partnerships for Improvement

However, from our years of Placemaking work, it is clear that civic institutions cannot ”turn a place around” on their own. Alone, they lack the necessary resources and their own core mission and the needs of their core constituency demand most of their energy (as well as human and financial resources).  However, partnering with the non-profit and private sectors, as well as other community anchors, can help these institutions better achieve their own goals while also applying Placemaking on a district-wide scale.

The Initiative

PPS will work with multiple partners to strengthen the role of civic institutions as important destinations in cities and encourage them to reassert themselves as cornerstones of communities, and as the creators and animators of vital public spaces.  Through programming and partnerships PPS will strive to fully maximize and leverage existing facilities to serve as public spaces, and to be active engaged partners with the private sector and other public sector interests. The Architecture of Place Initiative will touch upon several cross-cutting issues, including public markets, multiculturalism, management, sustainability and the architecture of place.


  • Introduce the leadership of civic institutions to the idea of Placemaking as a way for institutions to serve their client base while positively impacting the city’s public spaces in which they operate.
  • Build on existing assets; leverage, highlight, and maximize the utilization of existing public sector resources – libraries, museums, city halls and their public spaces -- to create new destinations that will help to revitalize entire neighborhoods.
  • Emphasize diversification of programming rather then large capital investments, both inside and outside civic institutions to maximize benefits of existing resources.  Even private property owners can support temporary uses to create destinations and build enthusiasm for future development on empty sites.
  • Collaborate to leverage small investments, magnifying their impact. Encourage cooperative planning around shared resources among diverse institutions. Facilitate partnerships among civic institutions so that they work with one another to boost local economies
  • Work with the leaders of institutions to become catalysts working cooperatively to address larger issues –  and in so doing, help build, nurture and help the communities around them to grow.
  • Combine civic anchors with reinvigorating retail activity and retail anchors.
  • Work with towns to create development plans for new mixed use development and redevelopment sites around existing community resources so that they are prepared, when the economy revives, to take advantage of renewed downtown development interest.
Related Articles & Resources
COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space