Not Just Jargon: Placemaking is Here to Stay

Every community should be thinking about placemaking as an economic development strategy to create unique, dynamic, and attractive places that leverage public investment for revitalization and economic growth.

“Placemaking” – chances are you’ve already read that somewhere today, and for good reason. Not just another trendy buzzword (but okay maybe a little overused), it refers to making quality public spaces within our communities where people want to live, work, play, and visit – or simply: places where people want to be (think parks, plazas, sidewalks, Main Streets, etc.). Placemaking has taken on new importance in economic development with a mobile, millennial-driven workforce in which skilled workers are choosing communities based on quality of life attributes and businesses are moving to the “talent” rather than vice versa.  Placemaking as a strategy can therefore be used as an effective tool for local economic development – and here are the hard numbers to prove it.

Let’s start with Main Street and downtown shopping areas. Many communities are struggling with storefront vacancies, crumbling sidewalks and infrastructure, lack of activity and foot traffic, and general disinvestment. Placemaking has proven itself a successful public-sector strategy for generating new investment and economic activity in these critical commercial cores. Streetscaping projects specifically have helped transform these types of corridors and typically include street trees, landscaping, bike lanes, new sidewalks, wayfinding signage, “street furniture,” lamp posts, etc. Consider the following:

  • Research has shown that rental rates for commercial offices having high quality landscaping are 7% greater than other comparable spaces, reflecting higher demand among businesses for these types of locations.1
  • Another study documented a 9% to 12% increase in consumer spending in forested business districts.2 Higher quality places translate into places where people want to spend their time – and spend money.
  • Shoppers also report a greater willingness to travel further and shop longer somewhere that has high quality trees.Streetscaping as placemaking can help extend the trade area (customer draw area) for local businesses, providing a boost to their customer base.

Investing in placemaking also has significant implications for property values and therefore fiscal revenues for local communities. Past research has shown:

  • Homes within ¼ mile of an “excellent” commercial corridor have a value that is 23% greater than other comparable homes.4
  • Parks significantly boost property values. Studies have shown that property values generally have a positive impact of 10% to 20%, with some premiums as high as 32% for residential development on greenbelts.5,6,7
  • Placemaking that enhances walkability (pedestrian “friendliness”) can boost home values. One study found that increased the walkability of a neighborhood increased home values by $700 to $3,000.8
  • Commercial rents can also be boosted by walkable places. A study of neighborhoods found that better walkability resulted in a $9 per square foot rent premium for retail businesses.9

These results only scratch the surface of the benefits of placemaking, but the message is clear. Every community should be thinking about placemaking as an economic development strategy to create unique, dynamic, and attractive places that leverage public investment for revitalization and economic growth. Stay tuned to the Navigator for specific examples of creative placemaking strategies that have been used by real communities and achieved real results.

[1] Laverne, R.J., and K. Winson-Geideman. 2003. The Influence of Trees and Landscaping on Rental Rates at Office Buildings. Journal of Arboriculture 29, 5: 281-290.

[2] Wolf, K.L. 2005. Business District Streetscapes, Trees and Consumer Response. Journal of Forestry 103, 8: 396-400.

[3] Wolf, K.L. 2005. Business District Streetscapes, Trees and Consumer Response. Journal of Forestry 103, 8: 396-400.

[4] 5Wachter, S.M., and K.C. Gillen. 2006. Public Investment Strategies: How They Matter for Neighborhoods in Philadelphia, Working Paper. The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

[5] 0Wachter, S.M., and K.C. Gillen. 2006. Public Investment Strategies: How They Matter for Neighborhoods in Philadelphia, Working Paper. The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

[6] 1Crompton, J.L. 2001. The Impact of Parks on Property Values: A Review of the Empirical Evidence. Journal of Leisure Research 33, 1: 1-31.

[7] Correll, M.R., J.H. Lillydahl, and L.D. Singell. 1978. The Effect of Greenbelts on Residential Property Values: Some Findings on the Political Economy of Open Space. Land Economics 54, 2: 207-217.

[8] CEOs for Cities (2009, August). Walking the walk. Retrieved 2012, August 8, from http://www.ceosforcities.org//research/walking-the-walk/

[9] Leinberger, C.B. (2012, May 25) Now coveted: A walkable, convenient place. New York Times. Retrieved 2012, August 8, from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/27/opinion/sunday/now-coveted-a-walkable-....

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