Public places set the stage for our public lives. They are the parks where celebrations are held, where seasons make subtle changes to the landscape, where festivals illuminate the summer sky, and where children cautiously learn the skills of sportsmanship. They are the streets and sidewalks that connect homes and businesses where friends run into each other and social and economic exchanges take place.
In Northeast Los Angeles, it's the River, which flows to the beat of the rain, swooshing past diverse neighborhoods, businesses and public spaces, where people who live, work, and play in the community experience pride of ownership and a renewed sense of civic investment.
When cities and neighborhoods have thriving public spaces, residents have a strong sense of community. This happens through the process of placemaking. Placemaking is an inclusive and creative group process of developing a neighborhood's social, economic, and cultural identity. Involving the planning, design, and management of public spaces, the placemaking process can be extraordinarily effective in making people feel attached to the places where they live. When people feel attached, they are more likely to get involved and build shared wealth within their communities.
Thus it is no surprise that placemaking is one of the main goals of the Northeast L.A. Riverfront Collaborative (NELA RC) Vision Plan and Economic Development Strategy, the goal that strings together all the other goals of the Plan. But what are the actual benefits of placemaking?
Encouraging the development of a community's identity offers a city immeasurable benefits, by mediating the demands of the existing population with sustainable growth for the future population. Three of the major benefits, on which The NELA RC Vision Plan and Economic Development Strategy will focus, are the economic, environmental, and cultural benefits of placemaking. When implemented successfully, cities with activated and friendly public places will prove to be the most successful cities: sustainable, liveable, and interesting places to live, work, and play.
As communities work together in developing a unique vision for their corridors, streets, and public spaces, they are forced to assess existing gaps in their infrastructure. Examples of these infrastructural gaps may be: confusing street alignment plans that lack usable commercial space; roads that lead to nowhere; unsafe or unusable public spaces; or inconsistent bikeways and pedestrian paths. As the population changes and grows, these gaps may either discourage people from living in, visiting, or investing in these areas. However, addressing these gaps potentially makes the community more sustainable for future populations, and thereby more economically prosperous.
In addition to the economic benefit of placemaking, developing great public spaces provides environmental benefits in that they give relief to urban living. Not only do public spaces reduce the need for and dependence on the automobile, but having accessible parks, interesting walking corridors, waterfront wildlife areas, and other similar types of great public spaces increase people's appreciation for and stewardship over the natural environment.
Culturally, public places offer free, open forums for people to encounter art, and to participate in cultural activities with their friends, families, and strangers. From seasonal festivals in public plazas, to jazz music in the park, good public places enhance a city's cultural life by bringing people together to meet, discuss, play, and experience their city in a meaningful way.
The Northeast Los Angeles Riverfront Collaborative is currently holding placemaking workshops within Atwater Village, Glassell Park, Lincoln Heights, Elysian Valley, and Cypress Park to gather information about how residents and stakeholders identify with their neighborhood.
More information can be found at mylariver.org.