PLACEMAKING: What is it? And why do we believe in it?

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Every few years or so, the real estate community gets hooked on a new buzz word. Experiential retail, densification, PropTech, the “agile” workplace - the list goes on. This year is certainly no different. But don’t get me wrong. As an agent and real estate developer, I appreciate terminology that provides a framework for the work we are trying to accomplish within our communities. Without the proper definitions however, these buzzwords can do just as much negative damage as positive development. This brings us to PLACEMAKING: Becoming a city of inclusion and connection.


WHAT is placemaking and WHY is it important?

Placemaking is an intentional effort to build around our community’s already existing identity while harnessing a neighborhood’s hopes and dreams for the future. Placemaking goes beyond simply developing physical spaces. It encompasses communal efforts to provide human interaction and connection that create a culture of inclusion. Without intentional placemaking, cities develop around faulty designs that fail to promote walkability, social equity, and sustainable living.  A lack walkability creates household isolation. An absence of missional social equity develops into hostility. A failure to use intentional design can negatively affect healthy living. Indy is certainly not immune to the negative side-effects of nonexistent, or under-executed placemaking.


What does successful placemaking encompass?

- Designed walkability

- Cultural opportunities and engagement

- Inclusive neighborhoods that promote safety and hospitality

- Green spaces and environmental sustainability

- Supported Education Systems

- Multi-Mobile Transportation Network

- Entrepreneurial Opportunities and Small Business Support (i.e. co-working spaces)

- Messaging/Technology


Why is Indianapolis fertile ground for placemaking?

It doesn’t take long for an Indy newbie to realize that Indianapolis operates less as a “big city”, and more as several small towns that form one city. Despite being a 15th largest city in the United States, we operate as a collection of neighborhoods with distinctive identities (one of the reasons I dearly love my city). Much of placemaking is most successfully executed on a neighborhood, street-view level. But don’t get too cozy - 75% of the state of Indiana will transition to Indiana’s major cities over the next 22 years. This trend means effective placemaking is incredibly important for our communities today!


Why is Indianapolis going to struggle with placemaking?

Hoosier Hospitality. We love it, we live it. But despite our hospitality, we suffer from an incurable case of "Hoosier Humility”. We fail to market our city with pride. We are one of the top growing tech cities, and yet our city has only grown 6.4% over 8 years, which unfortunately means our current growth rate is not sustainable for our future. We draw crowds of workforce talent to our city, yet our retainage of talent is a struggle. We need to help people fall in love with our city. I bear responsibility in that my tribe of realtors has a duty to help newcomers engage in community connectedness and placemaking not only during the home search process, but even beyond the closing table.


Indianapolis is one of the least walkable cities; which means we have low pedestrian "friend-ability” (AKA too many pedestrian danger zones). Safety is a huge burden on our walkability scores.


Indianapolis also has major hurdles to overcoming in improving the lives of folk who are aging-in-place. Some of the neighborhoods that most desperately need placemaking and connectedness are the neighborhoods that NeighborLink most actively serves the elderly with home repairs and addressing health department violations.


What component is often missed from the placemaking conversation?

Inclusion, inclusion, inclusion. Placemaking is not just for the millennial or the middle class or the city’s new residents. Real placemaking must involve the hopes and aspirations of current residents rather than just the residents the city is trying to attract. Placemaking needs a healthy balance of place-keeping. Placemaking solutions that might be ideal one people group, may not be effective for everyone. (side note: I LOVE the Lime & Bird scooters, but I have yet to see a senior citizen scootin’ around to get to that ‘hard-to-reach’ Kroger. Within framework of placemaking, we cannot call this an effective solution for everyone) You get my point - one size doesn’t fit all.


What can you personally do?

Placemaking doesn’t have to be sexy or monumental, but sometimes it does take place on a grand scale - like developing a community garden or petitioning to demolish a dangerous vacant building that poses a threat to the kids who play on the street. Other times, it can be light, quick, and cheap. Sometimes it’s as simple as organizing a 2-hour neighborhood cleanup. Sometimes its as simple as being the connector between a neighborhood boy that mows lawns to an elderly neighbor that struggles to walk down their own front steps. Sometimes it’s simply asking ourselves the question: "What is one thing I can do this week to add value and hope to my neighborhood?”


Meet your neighbors.

Brainstorm simple solutions.

Advocate for the needy.

And get around passionate people who are doing it!