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Creative Placemaking – not business as usual for planning

Susan Silberberg - October 28, 2014

First, the news that will surprise nobody:  change is already afoot in the South End. Market forces, the success of the district in providing startup and innovation business space, and the cache and good vibes added by artists and the creative community are all putting pressure on the rental and sales market in this part of town.  PlanBTV South End is a planning process that is meant to get out in front of future changes to ensure that stakeholders can be proactive instead of finding themselves in a reactive position with fewer options. There will be no better time than now to discuss what is special for the people who live, work, create, and play here and to plan for the future of the district.

There are some important things to know about planBTV: 1. The planBTV South End planning process has just gotten underway and the City and consultant team are at an early stage of designing what this process will look like.  2. This planning process won’t look like the usual planning project. 3. We are seeking active partners who will help us design and deploy it. 

What’s different about this planning process? PlanBTV will be a creative placemaking project and that puts the “creative” front and center.  It’s a recognition that the South End is a unique place of innovation, creation, serendipity, industry, arts, and culture. 

So what exactly is creative placemaking? It’s planning with arts, cultural and creative activities and stakeholders at the core.  It’s a recognition that the best way to preserve, support and celebrate arts and culture is to infuse it into the planning process….to conduct a process that looks like the place.  In creative placemaking, public officials, the consulting team, businesses, non-profits and individuals will work as partners to shape the future of the South End. 

In the South End, creative placemaking means that the Burlington arts community has the opportunity to be intrinsically involved in the process of shaping the plan, soliciting community input, displaying results, and ensuring the character of the South End is celebrated and sustained.  In short, this is about MORE than ensuring the creative community is heard.  The City and the consultant team can certainly call meetings of artists to solicit input, to listen to hopes, dreams, and fears. And we will.  But creative placemaking goes way beyond this.  This project has hopes that the arts and culture and creative communities become partners in the planning process.  We are at the very beginning of this project and at this early stage, the City and the consulting team are asking questions such as:

  • How can not only the plan, but also the planning process reflect the unique qualities of the South End?
  • How can this process be reflective of the wonderful and varied creative community in the South End?  That includes artists, makers, innovation businesses, and creative economy stakeholders.
  • How can this creative community help involve residents, businesses, visitors and other individuals in the process so that engagement is fun and meaningful?
  • Can artists and others in the South End creative community help ensure that the resulting plan represents and reflects robust stakeholder input?
  • What will it look like if artists and others are involved in displaying, demonstrating, interpreting the results of community meetings, Instagram contests, and other engagement events?
  • What can artists do to help all of us think deeply about what the future looks like?”

In places around the United States, creative placemaking is as individual as communities.  Sometimes, artists are trained in community engagement, partner with local organizations and businesses, and conduct outreach to solicit ideas and feedback for a planning process.  In others, members of the creative community are charged with activating vacant spaces by visually interpreting the results of community meetings or posing questions for community members to ponder.  In still other communities, creative businesses launch Instagram campaigns and try other online tools, while artists   draw what they hear during community meetings.  Play can have a central role as well; artists and others can use found materials to encourage students and adults alike to dream a future by building spaces out of Styrofoam, Lego, straws, and cardboard. 

We don’t know what creative placemaking looks like in the South End yet. We do know that there is a strong tradition of non-profit and City support for arts and culture, that many businesses in the South End have at their core, or embrace, creativity and innovation, and that there is a robust and caring arts community.  These are wonderful ingredients in the planning process.  We hope you will become involved to give input, help us design the process, and to even help deploy it over the coming months.  And let the placemaking begin!