Updated: Feb 9
I have been practicing since I was a teenager, always caring way too much about my neighbors and fellow entrepreneurs. Growing up in a post industrial town where IBM computers were invented and left, a similar narrative as General Motors to Flint, town and cities that lost manufacturing were left to solve critical issues around social justice, quality of life, and equity. We fought for contaminated ground and Flint has to fight for clean water. I empathized with my fellow citizens, we were now at 46% of the city living at or below the poverty line. It was my first real understanding of socio-economics and the importance of place.
At school, I read iconic and controversial urbanist Richard Florida's writing on the impact of simply painting sidewalks a color (not-white) could have on changing the psychology of residents (pictured above). It clicked - being surrounded by deteriorating buildings deteriorates the mind and soul, bright color and beautiful environments uplifts hearts and minds. I had just discovered the power of tactical urbanism.
Fast forward to the summer of 2010, The Department of Public Art was established, a play on departments at city hall but no real connection. It worked too, we had angry residents upset that tax dollars were being allocated to improve the built environment. Alas, we started to paint everything with color. We painted mural-boards and adorned blighted properties. Then we started to teach others and include local/visiting artists how to paint large-scale murals. We quickly learned that changing the world requires more resources.
Hello grant writing. The very first grant I was awarded was with the American Planning Association for $250 more than ten years ago to buy some paint for a mural (left). Fast Forward to the most recent grant, the queen of grants - NEA's “Our Town” Creative Placemaking grant from the federal government. I started to understand object-oriented versus people-oriented placemaking, murals and street-scaping versus programs by and for residents.
Essentially, I learned to practice caring about cities professionally and developed a distributed leadership style.
I am a Creative Placemaker. I practice with teaching, empowerment, and arts advocacy as guiding principles to creating attractive spaces that are welcome to all, truly. This is done by championing ABCD, asset based community development.
Placemaking is not new, I would argue it dates alongside human existence and man-made built-environments responding to our social structures and needs. The work behind the modern term was shepherded in the mid 1900s when iconic figures Jane Jacobs and Willian Whyte were among the first people to change minds and advocate for cities that focused on people and not cars. Revitalize or Die recently debunked the “we need more parking” myth in that “Parking is not a downtown attraction; successful businesses are.” Fred Kent coined the term and Project for Public Spaces was born in New York. Fred’s son Ethan and I work together, he helped host placemaking week in Michigan last fall for public realm managers to work together to better understand the incredible work being done in Flint, MI as well as celebrate the state as a national leader in the field.
Ultimately, Placemaking is a process - it’s all of us working towards creating the best place. History shows that the best way to do that is by reflecting the authentic identity of a city; its people and culture. Placemaking is a tool to celebrate the strengths of a city - the chefs, tastemakers, fitness gurus, musicians, artists and more. It can also be used to solve problems and address weaknesses.
So, fast forward after Jacobs & Whyte are working hard and Kent leads the modern movement, we then see a surge in 2008 with the housing crisis under the Obama administration. Since we couldn’t move, you see a spike in place based policies to create the best homes to live/work/play in. Then again in 2015 with the national mural movement led by Philadelphia Mural Arts and promoting vibrant, colorful cities. Bloomberg Foundation started to funnel millions into Asphalt Art (intersection murals). Lastly, we see it now with the impacts of the current public health crisis; streateries, BLM Murals, and pedestrian only streets are being installed around the world.
And finally, we see cities hiring directors and a growing academic field.
There are 4 kinds: Standard, Strategic, Tactical and Creative - Jacksonville has a creative placemaker on its hands. I’m both very creative in my process and prioritize the best public spaces to support civic discourse and restore democratic processes. At the core of a unique practitioner is process - their way of thinking and the art of the implementation.
My future in the field is as a thought leader. As I continue my field-work and teach on the topic, I would like to design and lead more training to government leaders, architects, designers and speak at conferences on my process to assist others to think in this way and to implement this process in their hometown.
I am happy to be in Jax, like many cities in Florida and Texas, the city is seeing an unprecedented movement and influx of residents. I am happy to direct under this activity. I chose Jax for a visible and real priority in clustering, entertainment districts, nighttime economics, riverfront activation, residential density and truly seeing downtown as a neighborhood. I look forward to launching this new department and managing resources and partnerships to support events and activations in the urban core. My department and our partners will ensure that we are leading the way and known for our active outdoor spaces - parks, alleys, riverwalk, parklets, and sidewalks. I could be anywhere directing this work but I chose Jacksonville because of the excellent reputation of the company and more so, the entire team.
Speaking of, I’ve only been here a few weeks but I’m diving right in and starting to think through what Jax's unique placemaking process will be as well as leading an ambitious project to transform the river-front into a winter wonderland for all ages. Jax is the 12th largest city in the nation and 2022's most growing according to Zillow.