Creating a Place within a Place

Sometimes a place exists in a community where it may need some enhancements and improvements to make it more welcoming.    This is a trend I am seeing as I review NAR’s Placemaking Micro-grants applications.   Project requests have included planting trees along a trail; replacing benches in a park; and funding streetscaping projects.

But…would these projects really create a new place for the community to gather?  Not really.  They simply may add or replace something in an existing space – and sometimes that something is more along the lines of a maintenance, infrastructure or beautification project, none of which are projects our grants fund.

So, I was thinking how can we have the grant be used to fund the enhancement of existing places but at the same time meet our requirement of creating a sense of place.

That’s when I came up with the idea of creating a (new) place within a (existing) place.   So what would this look like?


Let’s take the project that focused on planting several trees along a bike/walking trail.   What would that really do?  Yes, trees would provide shade and make the trail look nicer but would it make the trail a place where the community to meet and gather?   How about, if instead, the project focused on creating a little oasis along the trail where folks could rest, relax, meet, eat a pre-packed snack/lunch, check email, etc.?   Would that oasis create more of a sense of place along the trail?


Another project was to replace a couple of benches in a park.   First, the benches didn’t really look like they needed replacement.  Second, as I was looking at the photos of the space, there looked like there was a lot of potential to create another type of place for the community to enjoy.    One idea was to turn the space into a family/play place.   Think of what this space might look like if the benches were painted with a whimsical theme, which would provide a seating area for parents, and another amenity was added like an interactive instrument for the kids to play or a Little Free Library.     These elements would indeed turn this space into a play area within the park and give residents another reason to visit.


And one last example was an application to develop streetscaping in a 3-block area in the downtown commercial area.  Again this project would focus more on maintenance and infrastructure.   But what if the little, sad area below was converted into a parklet or mini-park with seating, tables and other amenities where people could stop to drink their coffee or eat the salad they just bought at the local deli/coffee shop.  Or perhaps they can meet up with a friend after work, shopping or an exercise class.


Do you see the difference?

So if you are planning a placemaking project within an existing place, think outside of the box and think of a way to create a place within a place.

  1. As co-founder of the Little Free Library movement–now retired–I still like putting people in touch with good ideas that build a sense of community. That’s why it was such a treat today to see Little Free Libraries mentioned and depicted on your placemaking pages. Many Realtors, homebuilders, developers and home buyers of have been wonderful ambassadors for these neighborhood placemaking tools. As sponsors, builders and stewards for Little Free Libraries, people often ask how they can get more involved. Easy first steps: 1. Visit the fun and upbeat Little Free Library website and social media; 2. Read and give away copies of the Little Free Library Book. If sponsoring complete Little Libraries for your customers (yes, some Realtors do that for clients) seems too generous, offering the Little Free Library book, with all its pictures, plans and stories,can work wonders in the goodwill department. Lots of children and adults of all ages will appreciate it…and each new Little Library makes a good news story that local media seem to love.