It’s hard to shake the feeling that 2021 was a bit of a disappointing sequel to 2020. As coronavirus numbers subsided this summer, we heard predictions of a new “Roaring Twenties,” but as new Covid variants emerged, the promise of the “post-Covid city” has been postponed until further notice.
While vaccination rates and other treatments will hopefully continue to improve, what if this limbo is that “new normal” that everyone was talking about last year?
If 2021 taught us one thing, it’s that our future is not somewhere over the horizon—it starts here, in the present. When it comes to placemaking, we believe it is important for a community to have a vision in mind for its public space, but ultimately, it is the daily work of care that makes a place what it is. If we want to cultivate a more equitable, sustainable, and vibrant world, the same advice holds true. In the coming year, I hope all of us (myself included) can stop waiting and wishing, and start living and working in the moment.
For us at Project for Public Spaces, 2021 has been a year of cultivating exciting new beginnings from what we have on hand. Among other things, we hosted Walk/Bike/Places 2021, our first ever hybrid conference in Indianapolis, Indiana, and online around the world. Our Market Cities program launched MarketCities.org, a new resource to support cities that want to strengthen their public market systems featuring a new resource library, biweekly newsletter, blog, and more. This fall, we took our collaboration with social impact partners to the next level by launching Community Placemaking Grants, a new initiative that aims to improve equitable access to public space and placemaking through direct funding, technical assistance, and leadership development.
Our most popular articles of 2021 reflect this philosophy of frugal innovation, as placemakers around the United States and the world explored how temporary covid adaptations could be made permanent or even expanded, how to better manage and govern our public spaces, and how to make the most of our existing built environment. Read on to see our top 10 articles of the year!
This fall we were excited to launch a new resource to support cities that want to strengthen their public market systems—MarketCities.org—featuring a new resource library, biweekly newsletter, blog, and more.
To mark this occasion, our Market Cities team, Program Director Kelly Verel and Program Manager Kurt Wheeler, make the case for why now is the time for cities and regions to step up their markets game. Markets have the ability to act as social infrastructure, as gateways to economic opportunity, and as first responders in times of crisis—yet around the world, they face threats to their very existence. Read more.
By Priscilla Posada • November 18, 2021
The pandemic has reinforced one of our core beliefs that social infrastructure plays a key role in public health. As our everyday public lives were disrupted and public gathering places became more limited, it’s no coincidence that rates of depression, anxiety, overdoses, and crime have all risen. And these negative impacts have fallen disproportionately on communities that already had less or more fragile social infrastructure to begin with.
That’s why we’re excited to be working with the Fulton County Library System to design a new mobile library environment for their patrons across the Atlanta area. With support from CloroxPro, this new way to bring library resources and programming to public space will help the library as they work toward returning to in-person programming in spring 2022. Read more.
By Nate Storring • March 12, 2021
The pandemic turned the events industry on its head. Conferences and training courses were cancelled or shifted online. Cultural venues and institutions had to invent entirely new ways to continue achieving their missions.
Project for Public Spaces’ Director of Events Juliet Kahne has creatively navigated these tricky waters, organizing our first ever hybrid Walk/Bike/Places conference in 2021. In this conversation, we give you a behind-the-scenes look at how she plans authentic, exciting events, even in this challenging new landscape. Read more.
By Jackson Chabot • April 17, 2021
Public spaces of all scales need place management and governance. What if every neighborhood in your city had the right and the capacity to activate its streets as places?
In this guest post, Jackson Chabot, Director of Public Space Advocacy at Open Plans, brings together lessons from London, Minneapolis, and San Francisco to demonstrate how New York City could move the city toward that vision. The New Year will bring in a new administration for the city, so we hope the incoming leadership will take note. Read more.
By Ximena González • June 25, 2021
Who says overpasses have to leave bleak leftover spaces under them? In this cross-post from our Canadian placemaking colleagues at Park People, journalist Ximena González tells the tale of Flyover Park, a project that engaged young people in making a place for themselves under Calgary's 4th Avenue bridge. Read more.
By Jim Walker • May 12, 2021
Placemaking may work best as a collection of little actions and adjustments, but that cycle of trial and error should still be animated by an ambitious vision—even a utopian one.
Jim Walker, co-founder of Indianapolis’s Big Car Collaborative and our local partner for our Walk/Bike/Places conference this year, explores what their arts organization has learned from America’s long history of utopian experiments, and how they are applying these lessons in their affordable artist community. Can ambition lead to disappointment? Sure. But as Walker writes, “Why not try?” Read more.
By Nate Storring • April 2, 2021
“Main street has been both a victim of the pandemic,” says Dr. Mindy Fullilove, “And it’s a tool for recovery.”
When we were looking for a keynote speaker for our Walk/Bike/Places conference that captured the key themes of the past year, we couldn’t think of a better choice than Dr. Fullilove. In this conversation, she explores her classic works on trauma and healing in the city, her most recent survey of 178 main streets around the world, and the role of place in our recovery from the pandemic. Read more.
By Aaron Grenier • February 7, 2021
While outdoor dining taking over parking spaces often stole the show over the past two years in terms of adaptations to the pandemic, Project for Public Spaces, among many others, has called for other public space adaptations that are genuinely free and open to the public and support a broader range of uses and activities.
Aaron Greiner, the founder of Massachusetts-based placemaking nonprofit CultureHouse, offers up an inspiring case study of just one such adaptation. Over three days in January 2021, CultureHouse transformed an empty courtyard in front of the Central Branch of the Somerville Public Library into an all-weather workspace for the community—bringing back free Wi-Fi access for the first time since the pandemic began. Read more.
By Rinske Brand • March 4, 2021
As we often say at Project for Public Spaces, management is one of the most important factors in the success of a public space. The details of how places are governed, maintained, funded, and programmed are inseparable from people’s diverse experiences of comfort, safety, fun, and meaning.
In this guest post, Dutch placemaking and place branding expert Rinske Brand, founded of Brand Urban Agency, synthesizes place management lessons learned from the people behind some of the Netherlands’ most exciting and enduring cultural hubs. Read more.
By Nate Storring • May 6, 2021
Given the ongoing uncertainty in our world this year, it’s not surprising that our most popular article of the year focused on emerging trends that give us a glimpse of what could happen next.
As we put together the program for Walk/Bike/Places 2021, we identified six user-generated tracks for the conference that reflect the most common areas of practice, policy, and debate in placemaking and active transportation this year—from putting justice into practice to adapting our streets to new public health and economic needs. Read more.
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