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The ROI of Placemaking

Placemaking is a powerful concept that has been transforming cities and communities worldwide. It goes beyond traditional urban planning by focusing on creating vibrant, livable, and community-driven spaces. For an overview of placemaking see our previous post on The Power of Placemaking.

In recent years, the concept of placemaking has gained significant traction as a strategic approach to urban development. Placemaking encourages cities to focus on the people who inhabit their spaces, fostering a sense of community and belonging. As more cities embrace this philosophy, they are discovering that the benefits extend far beyond improved aesthetics and urban design. In this article, we will delve into the remarkable return on investment gained when cities proactively engage in placemaking.

At first glance, placemaking might seem like a costly endeavor for cities to undertake. However, numerous studies have shown that investing in placemaking initiatives can lead to substantial economic benefits in the long run. By creating attractive, vibrant public spaces, cities can attract more businesses, residents, and tourists. Increased foot traffic often translates to higher retail sales and a surge in property values, which, in turn, boosts tax revenue for the city. Additionally, placemaking can attract private investments, turning underutilized areas into thriving economic hubs.

Placemaking can be measured in both quantifiable, tangible ways such as changes in land value, economic activity, population changes, increases in tourism revenue, new business starts – and in less tangible ways, creating a sense of belonging, fostering stronger communities, increases in community pride, establishing broader and deeper social connections. Here are some measures of how placemaking can generate a positive impact on the social and financial wellbeing of cities.

Economic Benefits

A 2018 economic impact study for the Maryland Arts Council attempted to quantify the effects of Arts & Entertainment (A&E) districts in the state by conducting a fiscal and economic impact analysis using IMPLAN modeling. The authors estimated A&E districts support a total of 9,987 jobs in the state, contribute more than $1billion to the state’s GDP, and generate more than $320 million in total wages. Arts & Entertainment districts were estimated to contribute $72.1 million in tax revenue to the state during FY 2018.

On the qualitative side, a study, conducted by academic researchers and industry leaders in Toronto found that participants were 50% more likely to spend time in places with public art, had a 63% increase in positive feelings toward locations when placemaking elements were introduced, and a 74% increased likelihood to share information about the location by word-of-mouth or social media - all of which can increase foot traffic and pre-visit spending.

Station North Arts & Entertainment District in Baltimore, MD. Image from

Benefits to Social Cohesion and Community Well-being

One of the most remarkable returns on investment from placemaking is the improvement in social cohesion and community well-being. When people feel a connection to their environment, they are more likely to engage with their community and form social bonds. Studies have demonstrated that vibrant public spaces lead to increased social interactions, reduced social isolation, and an enhanced sense of pride in one's neighborhood. Stronger communities often translate to decreased crime rates and improved mental health, reducing the strain on public services and healthcare systems.

Enhanced Quality of Life

Placemaking puts people at the heart of urban planning, resulting in more livable and user-friendly spaces. When cities prioritize human needs, they create environments that encourage active transportation, such as walking and cycling. The availability of accessible, well-designed public spaces also promotes physical activity and healthier lifestyles among residents. Moreover, the presence of green spaces and aesthetically pleasing environments can reduce stress and improve overall well-being, leading to a happier and more productive populace.

Attracting and Retaining Talent

In today's global economy, cities are competing to attract the best talent to drive economic growth and innovation. Placemaking can play a crucial role in this endeavor. Cities that invest in creating vibrant, inclusive, and culturally rich spaces are more likely to appeal to the creative class and knowledge workers. The presence of a thriving urban environment with diverse recreational and cultural opportunities becomes a significant factor for individuals when choosing where to live and work.

Environmental Sustainability

Placemaking can also contribute to a city's environmental sustainability goals. Well-designed public spaces often incorporate sustainable elements, such as green infrastructure, energy-efficient lighting, and eco-friendly materials. As cities add charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, such infrastructure can include placemaking elements such as public art and lighting improvements. Additionally, revitalizing underused spaces can prevent urban sprawl, preserving natural areas and promoting efficient land use.

Woods Bagot, an architecture studio founded in Australia, imagines electric charging stations that serve as public plazas and drive-in theaters in their re-charge LA concept.

The Bottom Line

Placemaking is not just about creating aesthetically pleasing spaces; it is a strategic investment with remarkable returns for cities. From driving economic growth and attracting talent to fostering social cohesion and enhancing the quality of life, the benefits of placemaking are far-reaching and long-lasting. As cities begin to re-evaluate their public spaces and revitalize shifting downtowns, embracing this approach can lead to even more thriving, sustainable, and vibrant urban centers that truly cater to the needs and desires of their residents.


Fourth Economy has expertise in providing arts and cultural asset assessment, economic impact analysis, and strategic planning for arts and cultural development. Whether you are looking to assess the economic impacts of placemaking efforts in your community, or need help planning future placemaking efforts - we can help!


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