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The Power of Placemaking

Engage: Fourth Economy has been thinking a lot lately about the events, assets and people that create culture and quality of place in a community. We are working on a Cultural Master Plan for Charlotte, NC; a Creative Economy Plan for Gwinnett County (GA) and an Art, Culture and Outdoor Economy Assessment for York County(PA). We would be happy to share what we are learning and recommending - get in touch via [email protected]


There is no single recipe for community success, however, we have found that there are five critical attributes that support vibrant and sustainable communities: Investment, Talent, Sustainability, Place, and Diversity. One of the indicators we look for when assessing “place” is whether the community offers quality of life assets such as public spaces that are accessible and public art which adds vibrancy and highlights a community’s unique culture.

What is placemaking?

If you think about where you live, what makes the place feel unique? What can you point to that identifies the feel of where you live? What would make your town feel a little less special if it were gone tomorrow?

The Project for Public Spaces defines placemaking as “a participatory process for shaping public space that harnesses the ideas and assets of the people who use it.” At its core, placemaking simply means coming together to create quality places where people want to live, work, play and learn.

Types of Placemaking

Mark Wyckoff, architect and professor at the Montana State University Land Policy Institute theorizes that there are four types of placemaking: Standard, Strategic, Tactical, and Creative and each approach takes a different path towards creating an authentic sense of place.

Standard Placemaking

From facade improvements to public park development and improved city signage this is the form of placemaking most will be familiar with. These placemaking activities are typically initiated at the municipal level with varying degrees of community engagement. Our work with the Allegheny Together program supports Main Street communities with standard placemaking strategies.

Strategic Placemaking

Strategic placemaking is aimed at making large-scale, systemic improvements that increase housing, improve transportation, enhance infrastructure and develop amenities to attract talent and improve quality of life for residents. This is the work Fourth Economy engages in most frequently with examples including our work for Scranton, PA; Macon, GA; Laramie, WY; York, PA and many others.

Tactical Placemaking

Tactical placemaking involves projects that are low-risk, low-cost, and short-term. Often these are D.I.Y. or not publicly sanctioned - such as work by street artists or “guerilla gardeners” but other examples include pop-up markets, temporary parks or pedestrian malls, or other “limited time only” attractions.

Creative Placemaking

This type of placemaking seeks to define and embed the culture of an area and can happen at a variety of levels. Municipalities can engage in creative placemaking by designating an Arts District and making improvements that encourage the use of public spaces or create new ones by closing streets and creating pedestrian malls. Organizations can join together to host festivals, concert series, and other events. Individuals can contribute to murals and public art installations or put up Poetry Posts, Little Free Libraries, or Little Free Blockbusters.

Little Free Blockbusters are the newest way residents are sharing resources with their communities while adding a bit of quirky fun to neighborhoods. Photo:

Fourth Economy consultants live and work across the US and have seen how placemaking can be transformative in improving economic, health, and quality of life indicators. Here are some of our favorite placemaking examples:

Public Art

Horse Statues and Pointe Shoes - Saratoga Springs, NY

Submitted by Ruthann Richards, Research Analyst

Saratoga Springs is a destination in upstate New York known for the Saratoga Race Course, horses, mineral springs, and great restaurants and shopping. The town motto is “Health, History, and Horses” which is reflected in the many brightly colored, life-sized horse statues embellished by local artists which you will find “hitched” outside of restaurants, businesses, and cultural attractions around the city. In 2013, another landmark was sprinkled throughout the community - five foot tall ballet slippers, a nod to the town's 50+ year tradition of hosting the New York City Ballet for summer residencies.

Largest Mural in the US - Toledo, OH

Submitted by Deminique Heiks, Analytics Consultant

Once an eyesore along the Maumee River, a massive grain silo complex has been transformed into the largest mural in the United States covering 170,000 square feet. The mural, which depicts Native Americans and sunflowers, is now known as the Glass City River Wall and can be seen from the river, highway, downtown, and beyond - creating a cheerful skyline and showcasing the city’s dedication to urban renewal.

Great Parks

Nay Aug Park - Scranton, PA

Submitted by Justin Wheeler, Design and Technical Communications Manager

Designed by Robert Law Olmstead (of Central Park fame), Scranton's Nay Aug Park is a historic example of placemaking that still brings pleasure to area residents 129 years after its creation. The park features a swim complex with two olympic-sized swimming pools, a greenhouse (currently being used to support a community agriculture program), a natural gorge with streams and waterfalls, the Everheart Museum, a tree house, pavilions, bridges, gardens and more. An amusement park and zoo were also present at the site until the 1990s. It’s an example of one of the great civic parks of the early 19th century which we were happy to highlight in the Strategic Economic Development Plan we developed for the city earlier this year.

Howard Park - South Bend, ID

Submitted by Jerry Paytas, VP Research & Analytics

Situated along the St. Joseph’s River, the grounds on which Howard Park–South Bend’s first and oldest park–was formed, originally belonged to the indigenous Potawatomi tribe. The area of “overflowed swamp waste” was slowly filled in with refuse from 1878-1895, and the park, named after state and local politician, Judge Timothy Howard, was dedicated in 1899. Today, the park features a 16,000 square foot ice trail and pond for ice skating, year-round dining options, and a variety of outdoor events including: exercise and dance classes, musical events, and arts festivals.

Trails and Greenways

York Trail Towns - York, PA

Submitted by Nicole Muise-Kielkucki, Director of Economic Innovation

In York County, PA, the seven Trail Towns adjacent to the Heritage Rail Trail, offer modern accommodations that allow residents and visitors to enjoy the outdoors, learn about the history of the area, support bustling downtowns, and experience unique dining options. By embracing long-distance bikers, families, walkers, runners, and pets, York Trail Towns have leveraged their proximity to public trails and made strides toward economic growth and improved quality of life for residents and tourists alike.


Atlanta Beltline - Atlanta, GA

Submitted by Ross Berlin, Community & Economic Development Consultant

The Atlanta Beltline is a network of public parks, trails, transit, and affordable housing that serves the purpose of enhancing mobility, connecting neighborhoods, and improving economic opportunity and sustainability. Spanning a historic 22-mile railroad corridor, the Atlanta Beltline is one of the largest and most comprehensive urban development programs in the US. Whether you’re interested in learning more about the area by way of bike or walking tour, taking a group fitness class, admiring murals, or purchasing fruits and vegetables grown on site at Alumna farm, there are countless ways in which you can take full advantage of all the Atlanta Beltline has to offer. The authentic sense of place that has been created here is a result of community engagement and the value developers have placed on harnessing the thoughts, ideas, and opinions of people who interact with the space. Learn more about the beltline and other urban trails in our article Redefining Built Environments with Urban Trails.

Vibrant Downtowns

“Little Sweden” and the Sandzen Museum - Lindsborg, KS

Submitted by Chris Worley, Senior Consultant, Analytics

When Lindsborg, KS, was settled by Swedish immigrants in 1869, they imagined a "community rich in culture, learning, religion, business, and farming.” Today, these values manifest in a city with strong visual and performing arts; schools; churches of different denominations; successful businesses; and an ever present agricultural industry. Those who live in “Little Sweden” enjoy amenities like the Välkommen Trail, a 4.5 mile bicycle and pedestrian trail, and the Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery, which features the art of Mr. Sandzén, a prolific painter and printmaker who also taught at Bethany College in Lindsborg.

Downtown Laramie - Laramie, WY

Submitted by Rich Overmoyer, President & CEO

The city of Laramie, WY, was founded in 1868, in close proximity to a major stop along the Union Pacific Railroad. During the first few months of its existence, the presence of outlaws in Laramie threatened the future of the city as a place for hard-working and law-abiding citizens. A citizens’ vigilante committee formed and they re-established order. Today Laramie has a bustling downtown with shops, restaurants, and well maintained historic landmarks that have become present day destinations, like the Union Pacific Railroad Pedestrian Footbridge and the WY House for Historic Women. In 2022, Laramie received the Great American Main Street Award for “excellence in comprehensive preservation-based commercial district revitalization.” The downtown area is also on the National Register’s list of Historic Places.

Community Building Public Spaces

Five Points Alley - Cincinnati, OH

Submitted by Abby Brady, Marketing Coordinator

Five Points Alley is a community courtyard in the Cincinnati, OH, neighborhood of Walnut Hills. The space is located near Peebles Corner, which was once the "center of commerce for black-owned businesses and civic life in Cincinnati.” The organization Cincy Nice manages and creates programming for the space. Their goal of creating a “black-forward community space where joyful experiences thrive and all who enter feel a sense of belonging,” comes to life during gatherings around shared picnic tables, public music and arts events, happy hours, and visiting businesses and organizations.

Miami Springs Adult Community Center - Miami Springs, FL

Submitted by Andrea Negrin, Assistant Consultant, Community & Economic Development

The Adult Community Center provides a dedicated space for senior citizens in Miami Springs to congregate and enjoy events tailored specifically to their needs and abilities. With a very active Senior population, the newly built senior center encourages seniors in Miami Springs to enjoy activities like yoga, tai chi, various gym classes, art classes, book club, and congregate lunches five times a week. The Senior Center also features the works of various artists throughout Miami and within Miami Springs. One local artist has two twenty-foot murals painted at both ends of the atrium in the building. Another local artist teaches art classes, which include classes on watercolor and oil paints. The senior center also provides opportunities for community members to showcase their talents and passions via in-house classes. Aside from the benefits that the Senior Center provides for Seniors within the community, it also provides a community space for local organizations to hold community events such as maker’s markets, local government events, and allows for rentals for entertainment, birthday parties, and celebrations–which is not provided by any other indoor community spaces in Miami Springs.


Great places allow for great community-building events. Learn more about how festivals, street fairs, and other events can serve as economic drivers in our companion piece I Love a Parade: Events as Economic Drivers


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