We started PlacemakingUS at 2019's International Placemaking Week with a mission to bring together placemakers from US cities and around the world.
We were inspired by the launches of Placemaking Europe, Placemaking Asia and a dozen other regional placemaking networks that span the globe in collaboration through PlacemakingX.
Since Covid-19 struck in 2020, we quickly dashed our in-person plans for Placemaking Festivals in Portland, Long Beach and Philadelphia, and pivoted towards online interactions including webinars, international placemaking "tool tests," Zoom workgroups, in-person check-ins when safe, and we even commissioned a series of volunteer cross-country projects.
Facing an incredibly unique set of circumstances in our first full-year, we are excited to share the work that was done towards our goal of fostering a network to bring US-based placemakers together to spread innovations and support and share in the good work from across the country and around the globe.
Last year was a derailing surprise to us all, but 2020 also created a unique moment to launch our PlacemakingUS network. Covid-19 both helped and hindered our hit-the-ground-running start to PlacemakingUS' work connecting US practitioners to support each other and connect with our sister global placemaking networks organized under PlacemakingX.
Please take a moment to read about the activities and interactions the network is fostering and the cool programs and projects that we were able to collaborate on, learn and share together. We look forward to working with you in 2021 to continue and build upon this exciting momentum.
PlacemakingUS recently connected some resident placemakers via phone who have been having trouble getting a holler-back from their respective City Halls.
These are neighborhood leaders, the kinda folks who organize neighborhood clean-ups and trunk-or-treats, follow-up with city staff to thank them and act as the eyes and ears of code enforcement.
These leaders gathered to gripe that they try and do as much for their neighborhoods as they can, but they can't seem to get quality, timely responses from the public realm, city-responsible departments like Public Works and Planning when they need them.
Even when they elevate issues, and call their representatives or their staffers, they still can't get a holler-back these days. They're frustrated. They're ready to give-up. And we can't have that, because it's the agency of these small actors who help prop up every special square of urban fabric.
So we got a few of them together and they spit-balled what's worked and what hasn't. Here are some of the juicier morsels:
#1 Strategy - The Art of the CC
Their best strategy for evoking a quick response from local government was by "CCing" the right mix of people in an email including the relevant elected and staff as well as interested community members or stakeholders. They didn't know why this worked so well -- if it invoked some form of competitiveness or if it just looked like a total clusterf$# waiting to happen such that somebody had to grab the wheel and correct the course by eliciting helpful, useful information! It must be said, some caution should be exercised with this strategy as its overuse and or lack of tact can take things totally off the rails.
#2 Strategy - Beat Your Own Drum
The group recognized that electeds and city staff more quickly address items creating heat online or controversy in the media. They're also quick to jump in and act heroically when a story is framed the right way. We talked about drumming up your own "solutions-oriented journalism" and social media and putting it out there to make the community's perspective more prescient with more people.
#3 Strategy - Build Relationships and Recognize Contributions
We all agreed that more city employees, electeds and public servants are good and helpful than the occasional difficult egg and that they are mostly incredibly overwhelmed by work, dire requests and even threats. Therefore, the ultimate strategy and only long-term play is to build relationships, create opportunities to spend time together and find ways to visibilize good work and recognize contributions. These actions help create an upward spiral of partnerships, trust, transparency and shared ownership.
There were many other ideas that were shared among the group, but these seem like some of the powerful, positive ones that could apply broadly. Please feel free to contribute your own strategies or examples!
Article by Ryan Smolar
The PlaceSpeak Series consists of report-outs from topical conversations we organize and host between placemakers to share knowledge and tactics.