Creative placemaking harnesses the power of arts and culture to allow for more genuine public engagement — particularly in low-income neighborhoods, communities of color and among immigrant populations — in the development of transportation projects. Forget the traditional, staid public meeting format and instead imagine artists engaging community members using multiple languages to generate meaningful dialogues, capturing their creativity and local knowledge to better inform the ultimate design of the project. Done right, creative placemaking can lead to both a better process and a better product. The end results are streets, sidewalks and public spaces that welcome us, inspire us and move us in every sense of that word.
In creative placemaking, public, private, not-for-profit, and community sectors partner to strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, tribe, city, or region around arts and cultural activities. So that’s what we’re going to be talking about today.
Placemaking is the opportunity for neighbors and community members to reimagine public spaces to be the heart of their communities. Creative placemaking means that we as artists want to make sure that art is at the center of these projects. Public art, murals, installations, learning workshops, interactive events, etc. We aim to work WITH neighbors and community members to create projects that build esteem. Places to play and gather, learn and educate, celebrate neighborhood history, all connected through art.
Murals and other public art seen throughout the city may seem like adornments to passers-by but, in fact, they play a critical role in contemporary urban planning. A process known as creative placemaking uses art to bind communities by creating a shared sense of space. Placemaking is the opportunity for neighbors and community members to reimagine public spaces and create places to play and gather, learn and educate, celebrate neighborhood history, all connected through art.
This type of effort has been a key strategy employed by DC’s Office of Planning over the past decade in neighborhoods throughout the city. When used effectively, the process can provide a sense of shared community that promotes quality of life for neighborhood residents. In addition, creative placemaking can also stimulate economic development in commercial corridors offering new opportunities for employment, services and retail.
In March, the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing & Economic Development (CNHED), a community-based organization that advocates for low to moderate-income DC residents on a variety of issues such as housing, in partnership with the DC Office of Planning (DCOP), selected CreativeJunkfood, a Ward 8-based creative multi-media agency, to work on a creative placemaking initiative in Ward 7. Specifically, the initiative will impact the neighborhoods of Deanwood, Lincoln Heights, Richardson Dwellings and Capitol View.
Currently in its development phase, once completed, the creative placemaking initiative will create shared amenities for residents, based on community input.
Now in its 10th year, CreativeJunkFood is a full-service creative agency with an extensive portfolio that includes animation, graphic design, branding and art projects such as murals.
Candice Taylor, co-founder of CreativeJunkFood, recently completed “A Community, a Family” a large mural at 4001 Gault Place which can be seen from Minnesota Ave. SE. For this project, Taylor applied for and successfully received a public art grant from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. The inaugural of the mural included a large community event that hosted vendors, members of the local police precinct, food and entertainment.
Taylor, a Ward 7 resident who lives in Lincoln Heights, saw an opportunity to work on a creative placemaking initiative in her own backyard when she applied for the project on behalf of CreativeJunkFood.
For the Ward 7 creative placemaking initiative to have its intended impact, community engagement is critical now more than ever. Taylor explains, “We understand that a lot of things are going on right now. This is an opportunity to have a voice on social and economic justice.”
From the onset, this creative placemaking initiative will use a community-driven development model. CreativeJunkFood has partnered with a variety of local nonprofits including CNHED and the Whitlow Foundation to meet this goal. The success of the project will depend on how residents interact with public art and if they feel that the newly created public spaces have improved their neighborhood.
The “initial touch point” as Taylor calls it, is the use of a community survey to generate interest and response. The survey asks how residents currently use their shared spaces, and what they would like to see in the future such as play spaces for families, murals and public art, wellness resources, seating and gathering spaces, etc. The survey should provide an empirical basis for what is needed and what is happening in the community. Based on the survey’s responses, CreativeJunkFood can begin its work.
So what are community residents requesting so far? Based on the surveys they have received, Taylor says that community members have overwhelmingly requested “an area of peace and respite” or a form of visual “art therapy.”
The community would also like to access to fresh food as part of an overall health and wellness program. In response, Taylor sees an opportunity to build an urban garden which will allow residents to grow their own food. In addition, the garden will create a gathering point where the community can come together and have shared experiences.
Catalyst for Economic Development
Another important component to creative placemaking is its ability to act as a catalyst for economic development. Creating a sense of place can attract new businesses into the neighborhood which in turn provides residents with new services, places to shop and can even provide jobs.
Taylor points out that in the neighborhoods targeted by the project, development is already happening in vacant areas. “There is development happening in this neighborhood whether we like it or not. This provides the opportunity to create jobs training and skills training, creating opportunities for people who are already living here to be part of the conversation. We are trying to be proactive versus reactive. “
Both Taylor and Sarah Cappo, who also works at CreativeJunkFood, see problems that have arisen in other parts of the city, where rapid economic development has driven out long-term residents, as a result of not involving the community from the beginning. As Taylor sees it, that type of development happens “in a vacuum.”
In addition to working with area residents, CreativeJunkFood is contacting local businesses to offer opportunities for vendors and makers to be a part of the business community. During her community engagement efforts, Taylor heard from poets and singers seeking a physical space to perform.
In the areas of Ward 7 where the initiative will take place, Taylor and Cappo are targeting commercial spaces throughout the neighborhood which exist in the form of “pockets throughout the community” as Taylor describes it. Since many business owners reside outside the community, Taylor plans to connect them with the residents whom they serve. In turn, Taylor also seeks to engage residents with business owners by starting a dialog.
Taylor reveals that “Sometimes it’s just starting a conversation—which is not a specific solution—but it creates opportunities so that everyone feels like they’re heard.”
While the survey will no longer be circulating when this article goes to press, CreativeJunkFood invites anyone interested to contact them with any ideas or input they may have. The agency can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org