Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend the "Placemaking Summit" sponsored by Northwest Michigan Council of Governments. More than 200 municipal and county officials from NW Lower Michigan attended. It was a great conference. Key note speakers included Fred Kent, President of Project for Public Spaces (www.pps.org). Sessions covered the role of festivals, way finding for towns and regional corridors, tactics for placemaking, case studies, role of placemaking in economic development and more.
My biggest take home message was that places need to have multiple activities. PPS calls it "layering," adding amenities to facilitate many activities. In fact, they say that a place should support 10 different activities in which people can engage with each other. One example is that a dog park shouldn't be just a fenced in area for dogs to run off-leash, it should support interactions between the dogs' humans by providing play space for the kids, long benches that the dogs' humans can sit together, maybe even an ice cream stand. (The ten activities don't have to be big activities, reading the paper (well, OK, your kindle), conversing, people-watching, eating, etc. are all activities that draw people to a place and thus draw more people to the place.
That makes me realize that as we work to promote, say, rec trails, we should look about how we can enhance people interacting with each other or other compatible activities.
Another take home message was that buildings need to open up to the spaces around them. Our new city hall in the old fed building is practically right on the river, which is the very symbol of our town. We need to be sure that the city hall is connected as a space to the river. Otherwise, it may as well be on the south side of town?