We’re really excited to announce PlacePOP, our new placemaking & engagement consulting service. PlacePOP is a low-cost, high-impact approach to inclusive planning that communities can use to test ideas, engage residents, and strengthen support for place-based projects.

PlacePOP in action at the Boyne City PlacePlans event.

PlacePOP in action at the Boyne City PlacePlans event.

Working with local partners, the League will plan, promote, and execute an event that demonstrates how activating a space can catalyze a community. Large scale planning takes a lot of time, money, and resources, and often leaves residents feeling disconnected and unfulfilled. PlacePOP is a “lighter, quicker, cheaper” approach to planning that brings people together, improves public spaces, and guides future development. PlacePOP can:

  • Empower people to experiment with place as a way to improve their community
  • Build local capacity and tests creative ideas to move planning projects forward
  • Promote interest in a specific, underutilized area
  • Educate local stakeholders on the impact of quality placemaking
  • Engage a wide audience of residents, visitors, and local stakeholders to share ideas, give feedback, and build ownership that guides capital improvement projects

There are a ton of examples of how communities have used temporary, tactical placemaking to guide local planning. For example, communities can:

  • Use pop-up retail to test demand and build buzz around a vacant storefront
  • Activate an underutilized lot using temporary outdoor furniture and family-friendly activities to see if the community should build a permanent pocket park
  • Improve walkability between two key areas to see if it changes people’s patterns
  • Use art, music, lighting, and seating options to create interest in a public space

Some PlacePOP History

Kids share their ideas at the 2014 Berkley Art Bash.

Kids share their ideas at the 2014 Berkley Art Bash.

We started brainstorming the idea of PlacePOP last year, after working with the city of Berkley on a place-based downtown planning project. Through previous planning efforts, the city identified a downtown intersection (12 Mile and Robina) as a potential catalyst for economic development. The city and elected officials wanted to engage residents and collect ideas of what “could be” in that area.

We worked with a steering committee of residents, the DDA, business owners, elected officials, and city staff to lead an impactful engagement event during Berkley’s annual Art Bash. We rented patio furniture, displayed local art, put out sidewalk chalk, and programmed the space with a yoga class in the middle of the afternoon. Most importantly, we asked people to brainstorm how they wanted to use the space. We collected a ton of ideas and the city was blown away by people’s interest in doing something dramatic, like closing the road to become a pedestrian plaza.

“Our city has several catalytic developments in our master plan, and thanks to the League’s efforts, we are making significant progress in achieving one of our highest priority projects,” said Steve Baker, a Berkley councilmember and an active leader on this project. “Placemaking is even more vibrant in Berkley thanks to the MML’s support!”

Collecting  feedback on draft designs at the 2015 Berkley Art Bash.

Collecting feedback on draft designs at the 2015 Berkley Art Bash.

Berkley residents and visitors will soon see these efforts come to fruition since the city is currently working with a consulting team to come up with detailed schematics on the intersection’s improvements.

Because we saw so much value and impact in this work, we decided to go big or go home. We bought a trailer, filled it with furniture, games, and engagement materials, and started incorporating PlacePOP into some of our PlacePlans projects (check out what we did with Boyne City last month). We also worked with the city of Lansing and local stakeholders on a really fun project just last week which focused on the Capitol Avenue corridor. Check out details on the project and pictures from last week’s event.

How PlacePOP works

The beauty of PlacePOP is that each project is unique since it’s 100% tailored to the community For example, communities can simply rent the trailer and its contents for under $1,000, or we can lead a deeper project with engagement, event facilitation, and a project report. Generally speaking, the process is as follows:

  1. Re-imagining a parking space during Convert Capitol Ave in Lansing.

    Re-imagining a parking space during Convert Capitol Ave in Lansing.

    Get started – We’ll meet with core stakeholders to identify project goals, partners, and opportunities. The group will explore options for the demonstration project, establish goals for the exercise, and explore expanded outreach, education, and communication opportunities.

  1. Work out project details – We’ll create a preliminary project plan with event logistics, assignments, materials, partners, activities, and communication strategies.
  1. Host the event – With the help of local partners and volunteers, we’ll facilitate the placemaking demonstration project during a planned community event. We’ll set up, staff, and guide volunteers to accomplish project goals.
  1. Debrief – We’ll host a debrief meeting with core stakeholders to recap the event, articulate lessons learned, and identify opportunities moving forward.
  1. Report out – We’ll prepare a report that summarizes the project’s process, feedback and data collected at the event, and recommendations to keep the momentum going to implement longer-term planning.

So let’s get going!

Doing engagement in Lansing during Convert Capital Ave

Getting great ideas in Lansing during Convert Capital Ave

If your community is thinking of ways to build capacity and encourage development, invite us over for coffee so we can brainstorm with you. Contact us anytime about bringing PlacePOP to your community:

Sarah Craft
Michigan Municipal League Project Coordinator

We’re looking forward to working with you!

Placemaker and CEO of Adelaide, Australia Peter Smith is coming to Michigan to speak at the Michigan Local Government Managers Association Winter Institute at the end of the month. Because he’s traveling so far, we figured we better take advantage of his time here with a fun, low-key, networking and information-sharing event in Detroit.1-26 event

Join the League at a networking and idea-mixing event with experts and practitioners who are passionate about building great communities.

Placemaking Happy Hour & Panel Discussion: Monday, January 26 from 4-6 PM at Seva Detroit

RSVP ButtonLook forward to great conversation and a cross disciplinary panel discussion moderated by Michigan Association of Planning Executive Director Andrea Brown. Panelists include:

  • Peter Smith, CEO of Adelaide, Australia
  • Alicia Marion-George, Co-owner of Motor City Java & Tea House
  • Sarida Scott, Executive Director of Community Development Advocates of Detroit
  • Steve Baker, Councilmember for the City of Berkley & IT Strategy and Innovation Lead at DTE Energy

The event is free and open to the public but space is limited so please RSVP here.

The League is pleased to host appetizers and there is a cash bar available. We’ll also be selling our new book, The Economics of Place: The Art of Building Great Communities.

Come for the event, but stay for dinner

Spend the evening in Detroit! Seva has a full dinner menu and there are plenty of restaurants in Midtown and within walking distance of the event, including:

Last week I attended Congress for New Urbanism‘s conference in Buffalo, NY and had a wonderful time learning about ideas, projects, and research on new urbanism and placemaking. Here are a few highlights from my favorite presentations:

Jeff Speck: New Urbanism 101

Jeff Speck's book, "Walkable City."

Jeff Speck’s book, “Walkable City.”

Jeff Speck is an urban planner and designer and most recently published Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time. The three-hour presentation went into great detail on urban planning and design, but what resonated most is also a key message through his book: Walking has to be easier and better than driving a car. Speck’s “General Theory of Walkability,” illustrates how walking to a destination can be better than driving. A walk must be:

  • Useful
  • Safe
  • Comfortable
  • Interesting

Speck has spoken on this topic many times and just last month he gave a presentation at TEDxMidAtlantic.  The best way to learn about the General Theory of Walkability is to watch the presentation yourself.

Charles Montgomery: Happiness in Cities

It turns out presenting at a conference is a great way to sell books—My colleague purchased her own copy of Walkable City and I left Buffalo with Charles Montgomery’s Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design.

Charles Montgomery's "Happy City."

Charles Montgomery’s “Happy City.”

Coming into the field of planning with a community organizing background, I am sometimes surprised to see the majority of discussions based on cars and buildings. Montgomery does an excellent job bringing people back into the picture and focusing on what all of us really want: To be happy. Montgomery’s book explores the relationship between cities and people.

By now, we should all know from Knight’s Soul of the Community that how people feel about where they live has an impact on the community’s economy. Montgomery’s research illustrates how people in car-dependent communities are more likely to be unhappy and untrusting than people who live in more walkable areas. This is just another reminder of why focusing on placemaking is so important to Michigan communities.

The presentation also left me with a few  memorable “fun facts” about happiness, which I’m sure I’ll learn more about when I start the book. They include:

  • Name tags make people nicer at public meetings
  • Nature boosts altruism
  • People like each other more when they sit in clusters
  • People who live in the suburbs and high-rise apartments experience the least amount of trust

Jennifer Hurley: I Love Meetings and You Can Too!

As expected, all of the presentations I attended focused on urban design, planning and architecture. To give my brain a change of pace, I attended a presentation by Jennifer Hurly on how to run successful, enjoyable meetings – unfortunately a topic many people need better training on.

Jennifer Hurley's slide on effective meetings. Write an agenda!

Jennifer Hurley’s slide on effective meetings. Write an agenda!

Hurley works with people across the country to run effective engagement meetings for urban planning topics. This is also one of the discussions I had with planning leaders at a civic engagement meeting I hosted a few weeks ago and wrote about here.

Some of the quick takeaways Hurley left her audience with were:

  • Don’t have a meeting if you don’t need discussion to make a decision or take action
  • Know the meeting’s purpose and make it known to participants
  • Start and end the meeting on time
  • Break up activities to keep things interesting
  • Set rules of engagement: Be present, stay on topic and finish the topic before moving on, encourage all to participate, evaluate, etc.

For those interested in this topic, feel free to contact me at scraft@mml.org. As requested by the civic engagement focus group, I’m putting together a training on running effective community meetings. We’ll announce the opportunity on the MML website when things are finalized, but I would be happy to keep you in the loop!

Overall, the conference was very informative and engaging. I came back to Michigan excited about our work and inspired by the work of others. It had been a while since I was able to attend such a large conference as CNU and I’m glad to have had the opportunity.