The Key to Safe Streets: Five Cities Humanizing Street Design

Politician Answers Job Creation Question with Placemaking

Ethan Kent
Jul 17, 2011
Dec 14, 2017

As the political season heats up and employment numbers are still low, politicians have offered few new ideas for creating jobs. Towards the beginning of the "Great Recession" we did a newsletter on Placemaking as a job creation strategy, but until today, we had not heard a politician answer the jobs question with Placemaking as the answer.

The Spokesman-Review asked Spokane council member Richard Rush:

Many candidates are focused this campaign season on job creation. Should the city actively try to create jobs? If so, what should it do?

"If job creation can be spurred by municipal government, that phenomenon will be driven by the ability of the city to build public spaces where people want to live, work, shop and invest. This exercise is called “placemaking.”

Previous generations created public spaces with parks, buildings, schools and streets that made for a high quality of life and incented economic development. The city should continue this practice and reinvent our public spaces with the principles of placemaking in mind."

Few politicians have seen this connection. The attention has been on attracting employers and consumers from other places rather than investing in one's own places and the businesses and people tied to them. This pattern has perpetuated the fragility of local economies, causing them to compete with each other while becoming increasingly placeless - loosing the very reason that people and businesses choose to stay invested (what we call Place Capital). The race to attract jobs has often been a race to the bottom.

While Michigan, for example, has been known for following  jobs down this rabbit hole in the past, it is now embracing a new strategy and has recently put Placemaking at the center of its economic development strategy. Flint, a Michigan city that had been a victim of most of the silver-bullet approaches to economic development and perennially suffered some of the deepest job cuts in the US, has also embraced Placemaking as a central strategy.

Many politicians we talk with are often quick to see the power of Placemaking as a leadership model.  It is not a tough sell to suggest drawing on community assets, looking for short-term "Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper" implementation and building capacity and commitment for creating the places that become loved by constituents. The buy-in and momentum that the process can create forms the political cover to be much bolder than politicians are usually able to be. Such a process also generates solutions and partners that do not come out of traditional economic development strategies.

We look forward to politicians, and leadership at all levels, taking advantage of these tough times to enable more resourceful and creative approaches to building cities.

Please share with us any stories of such leadership you may hear in the comments section below.


Ethan Kent
Ethan Kent
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The Key to Safe Streets: Five Cities Humanizing Street Design