WORDS: Thom Fountain, Project For Public Spaces DESIGN: Kaitlyn Bryan, Thom Fountain GRAPHIC: Don Ross PHOTOS: Nick Meyer
Placemaking sounds like some urban planning buzzword, and it should because, well, it is. But despite the negative connotation of ‘buzzword,’ placemaking can actually be an integral process in creating the best possible community in which we all live, play, and work. The Project For Public Spaces – a national not-for-profit organization – has honed a placemaking format that allows communities to come together and improve their public spaces. A number of local projects have embraced PPS and their concept, Power of 10, and begun to incorporate it in plans around the Chippewa Valley.
Headed by the West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, projects in Altoona, Colfax, Owen and most recently Eau Claire have started gathering together public input to make our public spaces not just usable, but great. So while the term placemaking may leave a synergy-esque taste in your mouth, underneath the term is a powerful tool for our region, cities and neighborhoods to be better than ever going into the future.
So, what is the Power of 10?
The Power of 10 is a concept the Project For Public Spaces uses to start off a placemaking process. The idea is that it’s not enough to have just one great place in a neighborhood – you need a number of them to create a truly lively city or town. It’s not enough to have only one superior neighborhood in a city – you need to provide people all over town with close-to-home opportunities to take pleasure in public life. And, it’s not enough to have one livable city or town in a region – you need a collection of interesting communities.
Everywhere this idea comes up, citizens become more energized to turn their places around. The Power of 10 offers an easy framework that motivates residents and stakeholders to revitalize urban life, and shows that by starting efforts at the smallest scale you can accomplish big things. The concept also provides people something tangible to strive for and helps them visualize what it takes to make their community great.
At the core of the Power of 10 is the idea that any great place itself needs to offer at least 10 things to do or 10 reasons to be there. These could include a place to sit, playgrounds to enjoy, art to touch, music to hear, food to eat, history to experience, and people to meet. Ideally, some of these activities are unique to that particular spot and are interesting enough to keep people coming back. The local folks who use the space most regularly are the best source of ideas for what uses will work best.
Whether you’re talking about places in a given neighborhood or great neighborhoods within a city, “10” can also refer to the ultimate goals of variety and choice. When we talk about the “Power of 10,” we are stressing the fact that we should always think of how placemaking can be accomplished at all scales. – Project For Public Spaces
Eau Claire already has a number of places that fall into the Power of 10 model. Take the downtown, which currently has Phoenix Park, Owen Park and Barstow Street (to name a few), and Haymarket Plaza currently being planned at the confluence of the two rivers.
THE PLACEMAKING PROCESS: Haymarket Plaza
The most recent example of placemaking in the Chippewa Valley focuses on the Haymarket Plaza, a 1.5-acre plaza (read: parking lot) that currently occupies some of the prime real estate at the confluence of the Chippewa and Eau Claire rivers. The plaza sits in the middle of the proposed Confluence Project, but is currently owned by the city and will presumably be developed no matter what happens surrounding it. Earlier this year, a few city council members and the West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission teamed up (with help from private donors) to launch a “Placemaking The Plaza” process that would help to guide and plan the public plaza and improve upon its current – let’s just say – less than ideal state.
Eau claire RESIDENTS gather at the haymarket site (above) to get a feel for the space between two RIVERS. later, they vote with stickers (below) for the VARIOUS PROGRAMMING items discussed earlier in the day.
WCWRPC hosted two workshops over a week in early November to gain public input on Haymarket Plaza. The workshops followed a specific format set up by the Project For Public Spaces that gets groups of citizens to brainstorm what may happen at the plaza in the future. It started in probably the best way, by going out to the site and walking around, taking in the positives and negatives and starting to talk about what you’d want to see. From there, the large group broke down into smaller discussions to address each of the four ways to “make a place great”: Sociability, Uses & Activities, Access & Linkage, and Comfort & Image. WCWRPC showed examples of communities around the world and posed questions, like “What attracts people to the place?” or “What would you not like to see in the place?”
One thing that was made clear during the Placemaking the Plaza workshop was that the group was not designing the place. Their goal wasn’t to talk about details of what it exactly would look like, but instead to talk about how it would be used or what kind of atmosphere or image it would convey.
After the workshops, WCWRPC will compile many of the ideas and brainstorms into a report they’ll present to the city. The report will also include the results of an online survey that anyone can take to add their own voice to the conversation of what happens at Haymarket Plaza. You’ll find the survey at WCWRPC.org.
Add Your Own Opinion! Quick Online Survey
After the Haymarket Plaza placemaking workshops on November 6 and 9, the West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission took ideas generated by participants and created an online survey, allowing you to select the ideas you like most. Take the 3 minute survey!
WAIT! There’s more? Altoona, Owen, Colfax...
Haymarket Plaza isn’t the first rodeo for WCWRPC. The group tackled the downtowns of two area cities, Owen and Colfax, in the summer of 2012 with help from PPS. Then, earlier this year they went to Altoona to take input on the area around River Prairie Drive, which the city of Altoona is hoping to make into a bustling center of public activity and private development. “The idea is to inspire the audience and let them know what is possible. Then, through the facilitated session, they’ll have an opportunity to explore that and come up with ideas,” said Jay Tappen – the WCWRPC director – on the Altoona project.
QUESTION & ANSWER
TALKING TO CHRIS STRAIGHT, Senior planner for WCWRPC
What makes Project For Public Spaces and their Power Of 10 concepts so appealing in placemaking?
PPS has been working to create great public places for over 30 years with projects in over 3,000 communities. While many of these placemaking concepts are not new, PPS has fine-tuned an easy-to-understand placemaking framework which engages the public. The process is highly visual. ... Earlier this week I was contacted by a local resident who participated in one of our workshops last week who commented how easy the framework was to understand; he would like to see the approach used for other projects in the community. And while the overall framework remains the same, we are able to adapt the actual workshop to accommodate unique characteristics of the targeted public space. How we facilitated the Haymarket Plaza workshops was different than our placemaking workshop in Woodville, but the framework was the same.
Where’s the value of public input? Is there any worry that more voices cloud or busy the process at all?
Places are about people. Public input is priceless, and great public spaces cannot be created without the input of those who live, work, and play at a place. The PPS approach is grassroots and bottom-up. It simply won’t work without public involvement. The approach offers a framework, but it is the participants who define what they would like to see at a particular place or how that place should be linked to other areas of the community. More voices are always welcome. And since a large portion of the workshop is spent in group discussions, a consensus emerges. For instance, during the Placemaking Haymarket Plaza workshops, there were many similarities and common themes between the results of the Wednesday and Saturday sessions which will be highlighted in our report.
Why is it important for normal citizens to get involved in placemaking their community?
Winston Churchill once said, “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.” Likewise, our public spaces shape our community identity and who we are. It is your community. You will be the one using your public spaces, so it is important that you get involved.
What have you taken away from public input sessions, like the Haymarket Plaza ones recently?
Most importantly, we gain a consensus among the participants on general goals and a mix of recommendations for the future of the public space. But three other things come to mind: First, a community member may have passed by a location many times, but never really stopped and explored the place. Workshop participants often see things for the first time or in a new way. Second, it takes partnerships to create, program, and manage great public spaces. Placemaking yields a menu of activities which volunteers and community organizations can rally around and pursue. And third, the workshops often offer communities an opportunity to recognize (and give themselves a pat on the back) for the positive accomplishments that have been made in their community. More personally, in my work as a planner, I find our placemaking events to be among the most enjoyable projects I have worked on. The workshops are fun, inspiring, and reinforce a sense of community among the participants.