The push and pull of cites as they are built and redesigned ran through our reads this week, as did the impact place has on those who live there. Seemingly unrelated factors connect, like the link between education level and fatal car crashes, showing us how decisions can have unintended consequences.
Sometimes, though, a connection we perceive may not really be there or things may be a little more complicated. Take how a placemaking project like a bike lane is sometimes viewed as a dangerous improvement in a community because, as a neighborhood improves and becomes more desirable, the cost of living there often increases, driving current residents out. As Matthew Yglesias points out, that is not a “crazy concern,” but it is a misunderstanding of what placemaking is, because placemaking is not a product but a process.
Placemaking is not a product but a process
The Project For Public Spaces elaborates on that principal, explaining that “placemaking is not the end product, but a means to an end. It is the process by which a community defines its own priorities. This is something that government officials and self-proclaimed Placemakers ignore at their own peril.” When done properly, the placemaking process isn’t imposed on residents, they are part of determining what will work for their neighborhood.
Of course, this doesn’t address the underlying issue of how low income people are priced out of their neighborhoods as their real estate becomes desirable. But mixing up housing could go a long way toward addressing the issue of creating neighborhoods that people want to live in but that are also affordable for poor and middle class people. A recent article in City Observatory that examined the latest report on people who are rent burdened, advocated for a reform of zoning restrictions as part of a solution to affordable housing. This would broaden the range of housing options in an area, for example allowing more single bedroom units and loosening parking restrictions for builders. A change in zoning restrictions, among other measures could begin to open neighborhoods up in ways that don’t result in displacement and encourage community oriented placemaking.
A powerful reason to stay focused on both placemaking and equitable neighborhoods is our children. Study after study has shown that neighborhoods have a significant influence over how poor children fare on their path to adulthood. According to a recap of 40 years of research on poor children by the Urban Institute’s Caroline Ratcliffe, children in poverty who live in better neighborhoods are “more likely to complete high school, finish four years of college, and be childless throughout their teens than those who live in more disadvantaged neighborhoods.” Working to create neighborhoods that aren’t class and race segregated is a vital step in increasing children’s opportunity.
Some placemaking efforts are already headed in that direction; all over the world communities are recognizing that young people need public spaces that cater to their interests and encourage them toward creativity and play. In the Australian city of Fremantle, that has taken shape as a skate park - one that also includes a mini rock climbing wall and a stage.
When you walk through your neighborhood this weekend, ask yourself, “Who is welcome in this space?” The answer may inspire you to get involved in creating great places in your community!