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What is Placemaking?

March 20, 2015

The American Planning Association recently named Bayliss Park in Council Bluffs one of its 10 national “Great Places in America” for 2014. It’s a high honor, but it begs the question, what makes a place a “great place?”

Is it the location and the physical attributes? Or is it the feeling you get when you’re there? Or maybe it’s a combination of both?

At the Iowa West Foundation, we believe great places are made up of a multitude of qualities. We know families want to live in attractive communities with amenities that meet their needs, superior education systems and access to recreation activities. We know businesses want popular locations, high-quality properties and supportive communities.

In 2014 we shifted the name of one of our focus areas from Community Development to “Placemaking,” to be more reflective of our vision: making Council Bluffs and the southwest Iowa region a desirable place for families to live and work and businesses to locate. However, you may be left wondering what exactly “placemaking” means.

By definition, placemaking capitalizes on assets and potential, with the intention of creating communities that promote people’s health, happiness, and well-being (Project for Public Places).

For some, that means an interconnected bike trail system throughout the county. For others is the revitalization of historic properties. Some residents may value public art while others are more focused on quality housing.

For Generation Y it may mean a community where they can live within walking distance to work. For Baby Boomers it may mean active neighborhood associations or cultural activities. For young adults and teenagers it may be a lively Riverfront with events and happenings. For parents, it may be recreation fields like the south 24th Street complex. Attractive public parks? Low crime? Diversity? There’s no single answer to what makes a place great. That’s why we’ve taken a multi-faceted approach to “placemaking” grants. The Foundation chooses to look at the term holistically, encompassing everything from to streetscape to quality of life.

Now that you know a little bit about what placemaking is, here’s what it is not. It’s not something we are doing in a silo. For true placemaking transformation to occur, it takes the collective work of residents, business owners, governmental entities, non-profits and private organizations. It also is not something that happens overnight, but over time. Similar to our other focus areas of education and healthy families, placemaking will never be a box we check off one, five or even 10 years from now. Last but not least, it’s not a one size fits all approach. What has worked for other communities won’t necessarily work for us. We are striving to be part of a solution that’s specific to our community.

It’s often said that there is a time and a place for everything. That place is here and we believe the time is now.

OUR VISION is a community where families choose to live, and businesses choose to locate, because of its quality of life and standard of living.


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