Placemaking in the City

It’s hard to imagine right now, with a spring storm threatening to deposit up to 10 inches of snow on us, but in a few weeks my neighborhood will come together for an annual spring cleanup. Volunteers will fan out to pick up a winter’s worth of litter, with the support of Keep Indianapolis Beautiful.

I love my neighborhood for many reasons–one of which is the dedicated cadre of people who work tirelessly to pull us together for the greater good. It’s amazing what this group can pull off: tree plantings, rain gardens, murals, pocket parks, public art projects, greenspaces galore.

A local artist paints a traffic signal box as part of a public art project. Photo by Heidi Unger.

A local artist paints a traffic signal box as part of a public art project.

Working together on projects has meant lots of neighbor-to-neighbor bonding time. When you’re trying to see past your poncho hood to pull soggy candy wrappers from a ditch, the person standing in the rain with you to hold a trash bag open becomes a good pal.

There’s a sense of solidarity and shared ownership, and civic pride out the wazoo. That leads to more ambitious community endeavors, like painting local artists’ designs on all the major intersections’ traffic signal boxes.

Similarly, in my book research I’ve learned of a group called City Repair, out of Portland, OR. This group works to reclaim urban spaces through placemaking. Rather than waiting for someone in charge to come along and “fix” a neighborhood, City Repair takes a DIY approach (or really DIWO – do it with others!).

Placemaking is all about creating gathering spots, or areas that support other community functions–composting, bike parking, safety, resource sharing, etc.  Examples in Portland:

  • public squares
  • meeting houses
  • community kiosks/benches
  • “solar-powered and artistic innovations”

With its emphasis on ecological and artistic transformations, City Repair is an inspiration. Their site offers placemaking resources. Check them out, and let me know what kinds of community endeavors are happening in your neck of the woods.

Postscript: Just as I was finishing this post, I found this great story of transforming a vacant lot into a public space – simply by adding seating.