Gauging Impacts of Placemaking Projects

City Planning, Community Spotlight, Placemaking Resources, Tactical Urbanism

Placemaking can be difficult to explain to those who do not have experience with it because it is often not a concrete place, building, or event, at least at first. The whole concept of making a “place” can be extremely visionary and one of the biggest challenges those of us encouraging placemaking have is getting others to envision it as well to get them involved. Selling the idea of a beach in the middle of Detroit (as in the picture above), would undoubtedly have had its challenges, but ended up being an extremely profitable catalyst to the momentum in downtown Detroit.

One of the best ways to get people involved is to be able to quantify previous placemaking projects and show the positive results of who they have benefitted and how. But this again presents all sorts of new problems. The Cultural Trail in Indianapolis has quantifiably raised property values significantly around the trail and throughout the communities it runs through but there are also unquantifiable effects it has had on both Indianapolis residents and visitors.

In the 2015-2016 school year, the IUPUI School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA), in conjunction with the Indiana Tourism Association, embarked upon a practicum course where they were able to quantify placemaking efforts around Indiana through both quantitative and qualitative data. In their inaugural year (fall 2015), they focused on 3 placemaking projects around Indiana and tailored a procedure to determine how impactful they were in their communities. These projects were:

  1. Franklin Street: Evansville
  2. The Lerner Theatre: Elkhart
  3. Indiana Dunes Nature Center: Porter County

All 3 of these are placemaking projects although they range in diversity from an entire street, to a building, to an outdoor recreation destination. One reason placemaking projects in general can be difficult to quantify is that there are different variables in each one—some are short term, some are long term, some are county wide, some are for a neighborhood, there are mixed use developments, cultural districts, trails, outdoor recreation, community gardens, art pieces, water features, and many, many other placemaking project options.

Figuring out a concrete, cut-and-dry process for determining impacts for all these would be almost impossible—but there are generalizations and observations which can be made about each of them which can then inform and improve future placemaking projects.

The SPEA students were able to make some generalizations about these different placemaking efforts and evaluate the projects’ impacts in their community with varying results. Some examples of these results can be found on their website.

Not only does this information help each of these individual communities, it can be helpful statewide as well: to gauge the impact that different kinds of placemaking projects have on different kinds of communities. Often communities move forward with a placemaking project with a final result in mind, but may not know if that project will get them to that final result. Determining a metric for how these placemaking projects actually impact different areas of the community would help those developing these projects to better understand some of the ways they may impact their surrounding neighborhood and city.

The class continued again the next year and they are looking to create a “guidebook” which will be available to communities around Indiana who want to find out more about placemaking projects and what some of their tangible, quantifiable impacts are.

 

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