Placemaking, Engagement, and the Community Vision Statement

From the equitable engagement findings of Phase I, a community vision statement was produced that culminates the design and placemaking constructions that stakeholders and engagement participants anticipate the project to encompass once completed.

Placemaking is a widely used term in development these days, the definition though broad, has been attempted by several urban planning groups and organizations. According to the Project for Public Spaces, placemaking is about developing places that are engaging and memorable, where it becomes a collective action that increases the value of a space, by incorporating physical, cultural, and social identities. The Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT defines it as the practice of developing an environment based on social interaction, producing a space that improves a community’s quality of life.

A well-known geographer, David Harvey argues that seeing the values that reside in nature provide that sense of place, through the feelings evoked in that place of immediate security and of permanence in our otherwise ‘transient and fragmented’ lives. Restorative, or healing gardens originated in Persia, Egypt, and Asia hundreds of years ago. Kenneth Helphand, a professor at the University of Oregon’s College of Design, School of Architecture and Environment wrote the book ‘Defiant Gardens’ about gardens of World War I, and the gardens built in the Warsaw and other ghettos under the Nazis during World War II. According to his research, even one plant can improve a person’s happiness and help relieve fatigue or stress; working or even just being in a garden reduces stress and can aid in healing.

Furthermore, evidence on the traffic-calming and safety benefits of vegetation near the roadway has been accumulating for more than a century, according to the Congress for New Urbanism; tree canopy has even been shown to reduce accidents on streets, referring to a University of Colorado study, which showed that increased tree canopy coverage was significantly linked to fewer crashes [see image of the Project Area and heat map showing evidence of road congestion].

Through interviews, supplemented by research and case studies, the Project Team confirmed that by making placemaking investments, and by connecting people to nature in the SWMD, we can create positive impacts for multiple stakeholders and audiences [see images of new streetscape and park plan]. The hospitals can also use the new public space and placemaking improvements to attract large medical conferences and other activities that would drive significant economic activity to the area. Case studies further demonstrate that not only does quality public space provide a competitive edge to medical districts in recruitment and retention, it also helps to define how staff, patients, and the community experience the District, and it creates opportunities for activation and programming.

When the public realm investment is grounded in creating a healthy environment and promoting community wellness it can be in service of the core mission. The SWMD Urban Streetscape Design (Green Spine Vision) and 10-acre park project is slated to provide these types of significant opportunities for placemaking, with the intention of providing that sense of community, safety, and reinvigoration for the entire District.

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