ULI Advances Placemaking: A Value to Real Estate

More and more organizations are seeing the value of placemaking and integrating it into their business models.  The Urban Land Institute (ULI) has undertaken a placemaking project as part of their Building Healthy Places Initiative. ULI has helped advance the notion that placemaking adds value to real estate and urban environments.

ULI’s Placemaking Program focuses on creative placemaking which they find is a strategy that brings art and culture, in tandem with great design, to a real estate development project. This helps shape not only the physical but also the social, cultural, and economic identity of a place. It can help attract and connect people, promote health, catalyze economic development, and add real estate value.

The program’s major activities include hiring an expert Fellow to assess creative placemaking; providing grants to ULI District Councils; offering strategic advice to District Councils and members; and providing educational outreach.

One educational publication, Implementing CREATIVE PLACEMAKING in Real Estate, discusses how creative placemaking strategies apply broadly across many facets of the built environment. They can be used in the design of housing and commercial spaces, public plazas, bike paths and pedestrian walkways, transit systems, and more.  It also describes the benefits creative placemaking strategies bring to real estate leaders, local governments, and communities such as enhanced social cohesion, greater well-being, safer neighborhoods, increased patron-age of local businesses and increased tax revenues.

The publication also cites several case studies and lists ten Best Practices in Creative Placemaking gleaned from lessons learned on several real estate development projects including bringing in artists and the community early in the project and looking for early wins to generate excitement, visibility and buy-in.

In Five Steps toward Implementing Creative Placemaking, Juanita Hardy, ULI’s Senior Visiting Fellow for Creative Placemaking, maintains that incorporating creative placemaking as a core strategy in real estate development projects is gaining momentum in the United States and around the globe.

As an example, Urban Atlantic, a Washington, D.C.–based real estate development company, and its partners, used creative placemaking as a core strategy in their winning bid to redevelop 66 acres at the historic Walter Reed Hospital complex in the District of Columbia. The $300 million mixed-use complex named the Parks at Walter Reed will include an art campus with an arts incubator for local nonprofit arts organizations, artist live/work studios, public spaces for performances, and a farmers and art market. Plans envision nature walking and bike paths, and wayfinding signs that inform visitors about the rich history of a site as well as public art placed throughout the site.

A rendering of the Parks at Walter Reed in Washington, D.C. (Courtesy of Torti Gallas and Partners Urban LLC).

Another ULI activity is their Creative Placemaking Panel Workshops where real estate professionals address a specific project, development or policy issue.  In 2017 in Raleigh, NC, panelists toured and analyzed four future transit stops in the Triangle to highlight approaches and recommendations to make infrastructure investments authentic and beneficial to the local community.  The panel recognized that while the practice may be popularly known as “Creative Placemaking,” it should in spirit also be about “placekeeping” as they worked to incorporate existing community and sense of place into their recommendations while identifying opportunities for growth and quality development that will come with new transit investments.

At a similar workshop in Detroit, workshop participants provided input on the Henry Ford Health System’s (HFHS) $500 million, 300-acre expansion project and revitalization project. They were charged with providing recommendations on how to best use the open space to create a place for the community to connect with the as well as how to promote health and wellness in the community.  Conversations focused on how creative placemaking can be used to connect the community to the facility, encourage active lifestyles and promote health and wellness.  One recommendation was to form a partnership with the Motown Museum, Qline and Detroit to establish the Motown Mile, connecting the Museum to the Qline, Detroit’s new streetcar. Ideas included installing kiosks at regular intervals and Motown themed installations, such as musical instruments and oversized vinyl records, along the route.

ULI also makes grants available to its ULI district councils to support creative placemaking projects that will use arts-based strategies to strengthen the connection between health and the built environment.  One recipient was ULI Idaho.  The focus was to determine strategies to transform a 1.7-mile section of Vista Avenue—Boise’s main commercial thoroughfare connecting downtown with the airport and Boise State University—into a healthier, more people-oriented place. The grant will allow ULI Idaho to test several ideas, which were developed through multiple Healthy Corridors workshops and a study tour by a national group of health, transportation, and real estate experts, on a two-block stretch of Vista Avenue.

Note: NAR’s Smart Growth grant was also used in Boise as part of NAR’s Walkable Communities pilot project which included sponsoring WalkShops in 6 communities to find out how to make the neighborhoods more walkable and vibrant.   Boise REALTORS®’ project focused on Orchard Street, a busy, four lane road without a center turn lane, inadequate crossing options for foot traffic, limited-to-no parking, and missing sidewalks in a number of areas. The WalkShop featured a presentation, walk audit of the site and round table discussion and produced a set of recommendations including a photo visualization of the now and what could be.  See Boise Regional REALTORS® Bring Resources, Expertise, and Motivation to Renovation of Urban Corridor.

Applying creative placemaking, design principles and community engagement can be used to uncover unique ways to create a new node in real estate redevelopment projects.  When properly applied, creative placemaking strategies can help differentiate a real estate development project, while simultaneously addressing social, economic, environmental, and other challenges. All stakeholders stand to benefit — community residents and businesses, government, developers, and other partners.

See also Placemaking: The Value to Real Estate.

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