The power of place

and what it means for Fort Wayne

Late last year the Indiana Economic Development Corporation announced the winning submissions for the state’s Regional Cities Initiative. Designed to help transform communities into “nationally recognized destinations to live, work, and play,” the resources provided to the winning regions are intended to be used to transform cities through economic development strategies focused on improving the “quality of place” within each community.

Northeast Indiana’s winning bid consisted of 41 regional development projects spanning 11 counties and $471.67 million of investment. With this much on the line, it’s a good idea to step back and define what “quality of place” means, establish its importance and understand how we can play an active role in evaluating the impact these projects will have on our communities. 

Good places are active and inclusive. They serve as the communal front porch for our neighborhoods, providing a stage for our public lives. But how can we gauge what contributes to the quality of a place? Project for Public Spaces (www.pps.org), an organization that has studied placemaking in more than 3,000 communities worldwide, promotes that all successful places possess four key qualities:

They are accessible. Their access and linkages are inviting to people of all ages and abilities.

They are active. They provide things to do (and people to watch) throughout the day.

They are comfortable. Their first impression promotes a clean, safe and engaging place to visit.

They are sociable. They encourage people to talk, allowing people to meet with friends and strangers alike.

As simple as these criteria may appear, each category brings with it unique considerations that, if done correctly, should reflect the nuances of our different communities. With that understanding, the design of engaging places must not only offer each of these elements in some way, but also provide a nimble platform for them to evolve over time. Good places stay good places for generations.

These criteria offer a different way to think about economic development. They shift the priority of the discussion away from quantifying job growth and move it towards a desire to qualify lifestyles. The idea of placemaking is not new. We have understood it for centuries. Only recently did we need to be reminded why it matters. In her book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” Jane Jacobs, a pioneer in place-based economics, provided a wonderfully simple way to qualify places – they require “eyes on the street.” In one simple rule, we understand what’s important. They combine residences and retail. They promote entrepreneurialism and block parties. They engage people from ages 5 to 105. Great places are places where people live, where they look over and after each other.

“Quality of Place” strategies rely on the visual, physical and emotional connection between people and places.

This is the power of place.

First appeared in the June 2016 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.

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