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In Our Backyards: Good placemaking makes good neighbors—and good neighborhoods!

Written by David Weinberger, City Partnerships Director, ioby.org

This post is a collaboration between ioby and the National Association of Realtors: two different organizations with a shared interest in the value of neighborhood placemaking.

What do ioby and the National Association of Realtors have in common? More than you might think.

ioby is a nonprofit, online crowd-resourcing platform that connects local leaders with the support and funding they need to improve their neighborhoods block-by-block. Since our founding, ioby has supported more than 625 neighbor-led projects nationwide that help make neighborhoods safer, greener, more livable, and more fun. More than 300 of those projects have had a stated focus on placemaking, and many more—like community gardens and public art projects—have had a placemaking component.

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Placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to planning, design, and management that capitalizes on a community’s existing assets to create shared public places that promote health, happiness, and a sense of togetherness. Examples of placemaking include turning an abandoned lot into a community garden, furnishing a desolate plaza with chairs and tables, and making a bus shelter into an art display.

ioby approaches placemaking as a facilitator. Our staff coaches new grassroots leaders in community organizing and fundraising best practices so they can successfully make positive change happen where they live. NAR approaches placemaking as a vital community process to be championed for the value it adds to neighborhoods.

There are many great examples of connections between ioby’s and NAR’s work—for example, the WePlaza projects ioby is supporting with the Neighborhood Plaza Partnership in New York City. These three initiatives are introducing arts programming to a new public space under the elevated 7 train, bringing free public wi-fi to a popular plaza in Queens, and outfitting a Brooklyn “pocket park” with a sunshade that doubles as a light fixture at night. As these public places become more hospitable, it’s easy to imagine the nearby local businesses who will immediately reap the benefits of increased foot traffic, and, almost as quickly, how property values will climb as the areas become better known for their fun features and user-friendliness.

residents enjoying a neighborhood plaza

Another one is the I LOVE Soulsville Rock/Art Garden being created in Memphis. To beautify the small vacant lot perpendicular to the city’s freshly-painted “I Love Soulsville” mural, project participants will clear the lot of rocks and debris, plant perennials and low maintenance flowers and shrubbery, create walking paths, and install seating. Can’t you just see it now? A lovely new public green space where people can sit, talk, and relax that will draw pedestrians to the area and spike enthusiasm for—and use of—the neighborhood and its other amenities.

In addition to these popular, light-and-quick-style placemaking efforts, ioby is also able to support larger-scale infrastructure projects, like Memphis’s Hampline, a two-mile, art-and-plant-lined trail that will connect bikers and peds with safe access to facilities and amenities in the neighborhood, including five schools, a park, a community center, a library, medical facilities, and the city’s arts district. PeopleForBikes called the Hampline “the most interesting bike project in the country.”

ioby’s uniqueness among the current crop of crowdfunding websites is also of particular value to the real estate community. While one of ioby’s central features is the online crowdfunding platform we maintain that allows individuals to collect donations, our project implementation model emphasizes education and ownership. ioby leaders volunteer their own time and their own ideas to make their neighborhoods a better place, which in turn gives each project a sense of purpose, belonging, and proprietorship that it’s hard to achieve through other funding means. This feeling of ownership translates into sustained neighborhood stewardship, which of course makes for more livable, inclusive, and desirable communities over time.

ioby and NAR approach placemaking from different angles, but ultimately, the perks of citizen-led placemaking benefit everyone they reach.

If you will be applying for, or have been approved for, an NAR Placemaking Micro-grant, but will still need additional funds for the project, you may want to take a look at ioby to see if our crowd-resourcing platform may be able to help provide any gap funding needed for the project.

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