Five of the Best Placemaking Initiatives in the US

paint placemaking

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Creating unique public spaces in cities can encourage citizen participation and transform placemaking values in that community.

Many cities such as New York, Boston, Montreal and Copenhagen have created public playgrounds by installing swings for their communities (both adults and children) to play with for leisure, making the public space a friendly and creative place to be. Encouraging such leisure activities can change how a person interacts with their surroundings by giving special meanings and creating images in one’s mind about the geography of the place.

Public art installations can also transform our surroundings. According to an article in Project for Public Spaces, “more than ever before, public artworks are stimulating and inviting active dialogue rather than just passive observation, thereby fostering social interaction that can even lead to a sense of social cohesion among the viewers themselves.”

It is evident that the people’s opinion is also taken into consideration while making public art monuments in public parks and city streets, making the process of installations more interactive and communal. An example of this is vacant storefronts in New Orleans where people could write what they wanted in their city or use post-it notes to voice their opinions on how to improve to the city.

Here is a list of five placemaking projects in the USA which have contributed to making cities more interactive:

Bryant Park, New York City

bryant park

Bryant Park in New York City is a good example of a popular contemporary urban park in today’s America. Located next to New York’s public library, the park is an interactive place for leisure with many good facilities for people to relax and enjoy the day. Placing chairs in the park during sunny weather is a treat for visitors. More than a thousand lightweight movable chairs have been placed in the park for people to sit and enjoy the view either by themselves or with friends. This shows that placing chairs in a park can make a big difference. There are also many other facilities which makes Bryant Park a good spot:

The park’s center is a three-acre open green surrounded by tall, arching trees. Kiosks at its northwest corner offer coffee and light meals, and directly behind the library on the east side is Bryant Park Grill, an indoor restaurant with outdoor and roof-deck dining. Visitors can rent pieces for chess and backgammon tables from the New York Chess and Backgammon Club. Other attractions include flower gardens, a fountain at the west end of the park, and a variety of vantage points from which to just sit and watch the world go by. – PPS

The Cloud Gate sculpture in Chicago’s Millennium Park

chicago bean

Chicago’s Cloud Gate Sculpture or the Bean, as it is colloquially called, has been a trademark for the city ever since its inception in 2006. The sculpture provides an astonishing view of the city’s skyline by reflecting it in the mirror, and people can also see their own reflection behind the city’s prominent buildings. The sculpture has also been seen in popular culture through movies and TV programs, becoming a popular phenomenon. It’s a place where the community comes for leisure activities, and feels a kind of kinship with the city and other people who visit the park.

Boston’s Adult Playground on D Street

boston playground

Boston recently opened an adult playground in its park on the lawn on D Street, adjacent to Boston Convention and Exhibitors Center. People can sit on the swing and play or just spend time for leisure. The lawn on D Park is a good example of placemaking as it aids many other activities other than just the playground. It is a place for the community to get together, listen to music or just spend some time in the city. It has also been built because of requests from the community. As Jim Roony states in this article:

Within the community there’s been a longstanding request for some outdoor open space. We were mindful of that, and we made a commitment we would try to address that. The types of entertainment will fall under four categories: D Street ArtLAB, D Street Games, D Street LIVE, and D Street Music.

There will also be space for outdoor sporting activities making it a good place for the community to gather on holidays and weekends.

Mojo Robot in San Pedro, Los Angeles

Mojo,_San_Pedro,_California_2007

There is a robot named Mojo in Los Angeles which randomly beams light on passers by. This is a good example of modern public art where technology meets people. The interactive nature of this robot attracts people to play with it and see where the light beams end up on the street. Since it is located on the street, it also creates a sense of surprise for people. Mojo also serves as a surveillance camera which prompts people to be careful of their actions on the street. It raises many important questions about today’s technologically driven world. As Marc Pally says:

I would prefer that people pull their cars over and faint in the driver’s seat. I think younger people in particular will move, they’ll dart, they’ll be very engaged. Some people might be annoyed: ‘What’s this light on me for? I just want to be anonymous.’ I anticipate lots of animated conversation.

Village Building Convergence 2014

city repair

In Portland USA, there is a village building convergence event which encourages people to actively participate in the intricate details of their city building. As this article states:

The Village Building Convergence fosters community resilience by sharing resources to attain appropriate city permits, donated building materials and plants and community organizing skills necessary to orchestrate urban permaculture and placemaking at multiple scales. This nurtures the inherent leadership of every participant who collaborate with neighbors, volunteers and the local ecology to transform and reconnect with place.

This is a great way for the community to work on a project together and get to know other people in their neighborhood. People will also work in activism and placemaking to foster growth for their community. It is a way to know what the people in the city want rather than blindly following the government’s proposals and having a say in intricate matters.

Thejas Jagannath is a graduate in Human Geography from University of Auckland. She has worked for Urban Times as a managing editor and correspondent for the past 2 years. She likes reading, travelling, learning about cities and meeting new people. 

Images via City Repair ProjectWikimedia, Derek Key, Wikimedia, City Repair Project and H+A.

  • DRoberts

    I experienced “the Bean” in Chicago a few years ago and thoroughly enjoyed watching people’s reactions when they first saw it — almost everyone broke into a big smile and most changed the direction that they were walking to walk towards it. It is like a giant people magnet!

    • Thejas Jagannath

      Hi! Thanks for your comment. Indeed, the bean is a great spot for attracting people. You can also see Chicago’s skyline mirrored on the sculpture and people love to see a disillusioned image of themselves and to play with the sculpture. It is very interactive and brilliantly located. We need more of such sculptures in our cities to bring people together.

  • Josh Feit

    As a tourist, sat down at a table in Bryant Park once and was shooed away for not having a book.