What Is Placemaking?

Placemaking is when unused public spaces are transformed by ordinary citizens to improve the community’s health, happiness, and well-being.

This concept focuses on creating people-centered projects that are lighter, quicker, and cheaper.

Placemaking is a process that improves the look and function of public space. Our streets and sidewalks, parks, public lawns and gardens, town centers, and schools are all areas that can be repurposed when there is a need or desire to do so. This process includes identifying the public space, determining community needs that can be met by changing the function of that space, and organizing and completing the project with members of the community.

Placemaking is community driven. When residents are given the power and authority to decide what a place is used for, they become invested in it. Their needs, culture, and personalities become apparent as they participate in the design and building processes. Fence building, compost bin programs, rain water collection systems, and street painting are all examples of small-scale projects that allow non-expert community members to take control of public assets.

Placemaking fills in gaps. The places where we live, work, play, and learn are constantly changing. It is an ongoing and imperfect process and sometimes things are left unfinished or forgotten. In Knoxville, there are a lot of those unfinished and forgotten spaces. Some call it blight or oversight, but we see opportunity. Placemaking takes those small, empty spaces and allows people to change them in ways that meet the needs of their community.

Are there placemaking projects in Knoxville?

Last August, MPC welcomed Ben Epperson in the all new role of Healthy Communities Project Manager. Working with Great Schools Partnership and Knoxville’s Community Schools, Ben focuses on projects that encourage healthy communities with schools at their center. To do this, he is focusing on placemaking.

In the beginning, we knew what we had, what we lacked, and where we wanted to go. This was how we began placemaking and how it has worked in each of the projects I have seen in Knoxville.

According to Ben, they started small. “In the beginning, we knew what we had, what we lacked, and where we wanted to go. This was how we began placemaking and how it has worked in each of the projects I have seen in Knoxville.”

Mascot wanted a water fountain in their park with basketball goals, horse shoe pits, and a volleyball net. Inskip wanted to make their own trails and paint the street to calm traffic near the elementary school. Lonsdale wanted community gardens, a walking trail, and a neighborhood walk-n-watch. Vestal wanted a natural playscape and community gateway. South Knoxville Elementary wanted a tiny skate park. Each project focused on building social capital as community and government partners worked side-by-side to provide opportunities for social interaction and physical activity close to home.

The hope is that by making progress on small projects like these, communities will gain momentum for tackling larger goals in the future. When the projects are completed, community leaders’ spheres of influence and support networks will be larger, they will be better connected to and recognized by government partners and local businesses, and they will feel a sense of power and ownership in their communities. They will have reimagined the places they call home.