What is Placemaking?
Placemaking is the reclaiming and revitalization of public spaces for community use. Simply put, it’s the art of making our communities. Barn-raising, mural-painting, farmers’ markets-attending, park-founding, and block-partying; community comes from doing things together in shared spaces, and the shared experiences, emotions, and values that follow are the community identity.
Why Is Placemaking Important?
A global pandemic has thrown into the light the stark inequalities that exist in our country. Many things must continue to change to meet our communities' urgent needs for connection, safety, and stability. With placemaking, we can create safe spaces, demonstrate the possibility of our streets and public spaces, strengthen community values, and reinvigorate our small and local businesses.
“Convincing people to ‘live life in public’ is one of the greatest services you and I can perform for our cities. Because parks are not just places to unwind or recreate, just like downtowns are not simply places to conduct business. They are deeply necessary platforms for equity.”
-- Carol Coletta, President and CEO of the Memphis River Parks Partnership, in her speech at the International Downtown Association 2020 conference.
That is to say, placemaking is an investment in our public spaces just as much as it's an investment in our relationships and the places we call home.
How do Vermonters do Placemaking?
This post contains examples of placemaking in Vermont that fall into 5 different categories; Place To Gather, Pop-ups, Public Art, Programming, and COVID Response. These brief summaries include links that give more detail on the projects, as well as other resources of relevance. In December of 2020, the Agency of Commerce and Community Development launched the Better Places pilot program to fund more placemaking initiatives in Vermont. Learn more about how your community can get funded here.
PLACES TO GATHER
Public spaces are the building blocks of community life. Parks, village greens, streets, sidewalks, and playgrounds are the places where Vermonters gather and building meaningful connection to one another and the places they call home.
Main St. Parklet
Main Street, Montpelier, VT
Opened in 2015
The City of Montpelier, with the leadership of Montpelier Alive, have encouraged reclaiming on-street parking spaces for parklets to create spaces for people to gather and for restaurants to expand their dining opportunities.
The city's (and state's) first parklet was created and tested by Ward B. Joyce on Rialto Bridge along State Street in 2014. For $8,000, the structure was built in less than a week, and was enjoyed by the community for six months. In the wake of the parklet's success, the city of Montpelier immediately developed guidelines and policies for future parklet planning and implementation.
The following year, Joyce, with the donated labor of Vermont Technical Institute students, and the support Montpelier Alive and the City of Montpelier, opened a pocket park in an empty lot along Main Street, reusing the structure from the Rialto Bridge with some added elements. Thanks to the excitement stirred by the Rialto Bridge pocket park, their Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign was wildly successful, and with private donations, the project cost about $30,000.
In 2019, the Main St. structure was moved to Barre Street, where it sits in front of the senior center. Customers from Bohemian Bakery enjoy their pastries and coffee alongside residents of the senior center and bus riders lounging in the shade. The original State Street parklet has served as an inspiration for many other parklets around the state of Vermont, from Brattleboro to Burlington.
St. Albans Bay Pier
St. Albans, VT
The St. Albans dock fell out of use when it was deemed noncompliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act. In order to bring the dock back into compliance, it would cost the town $900,000 to $2 million. With the then-recent opening of the St. Albans Marina next door, building more dock space wasn’t urgent for the town.
Jessica Frost from RiseVT and Town Manager Carrie Johnson worked to make the dock into an enjoyable space for the community. Though no grants or sponsorships were secured, the $6,000 project was paid for and undertaken by the town's Public Works Department. The work of leveling and painting the asphalt, installing benches and planters, and painting a colorful mural to make the dock more inviting and vibrant was done in a total of 24-32 hours.
Broad Brook Community Center
2018 - present
The Grange Halls of the U.S. have served as important cultural centers in rural communities since the late 19th century. They’ve housed auctions, community meals, Grange meetings, and other events. In 2018, Guilford’s Grange Hall was bought by the nonprofit organization Broad Brook Community Center.
The Broad Brook Community Center worked with the local Grange organization to improve the building's safety and function while preserving it's historic character. The rehabilitation cost $1.2 million and includes a new kitchen, structural improvements, and bringing the building up to code for fire safety and accessibility.
Danville Village Green
1999 - 2014
Danville’s iconic village green is hemmed in on one side by Route 2, a heavily- and fast-trafficked road that runs through the center of town. In conjunction with the Vermont Arts Council and the Danville community, VTrans created a plan to restore and beautify the green.
Music and speaking events are regularly hosted on the newly-cnstructed bandstand. A tall granite thermometer is one of the many sculptures around the green, including four granite posts inscribed with the four seasons. The green also includes an amphitheater surrounded by lush and colorful landscaping. In total, the artistic enhancements done on the green cost $275,000.
Many municipalities have beautification committees or partnerships that decorate the downtown with flowers and holiday decorations.
Wilmington Beautification Committee
Wilmington has an active and robust beautification committee who maintain the gardens and landscaping downtown. Barrels, hanging baskets, hayracks, and window boxes are set up around town and filled with flowers for the enjoyment of the community.
Wilmington allocates nearly $18,000 a year for their beautification efforts. The volunteer, Beautification Committee also maintains the town's community gardens and festive holiday decorations throughout the year.
Rutland's downtown organization, the Rutland Downtown Partnership maintain their downtown flower program and beautiful holiday decorations. Every September, Cornstalks are purchased from local farms to decorate lamp posts, and in October, pumpkins are elaborately carved and displayed.
As the holiday season approaches, streets are strung with lights, lighted snowflakes, and garlands, and Downtown Rutland holds a storefront winter decoration competition with local merchants. The City's budget for flowers and hanging baskets is about $6,000 with another $15,000 for fall and winter holiday decorations.
The possibility of our streets and public spaces can be best visualized and tested through temporary projects. Seeing is believing, for many communities, and more permanent change often follow these events.
The next three pop-up projects used Local Motion's Pop-Up Project Mobile Support Unit. Local Motion charges $100 for the delivery of the Mobile Support Unit, and additional charges depend on how much consumable materials are used (i.e. paint and heavy duty tape).
Vergennes Downtown-Basin Masterplan Demonstration
September 26th, 2015
Vergennes, as part of their Downtown-Basin master plan public engagement process, hosted a one-day event to test the feasibility of curb extensions, bike lanes, and pedestrian refuges. These temporary demonstration projects help advance the community's goals to make the downtown safer and more accessible for pedestrians and cyclists.
In Middlebury, a community project, VIVIDMid, aimed to make their downtown and surrounding neighborhood safer for pedestrians and cyclists by calming traffic through temporary demonstration projects. With the help of Local Motion, local volunteers set up crosswalks, sidewalks, and curb extensions to slow down traffic and make a more pleasant walking environment.
Enosburg Eats and Walking Tour
October 13th, 2018
The Enosburg Eats and Walking Tour led a group of community members and a team of urban planning consultants on a tasting and walking tour of the downtown. Stops in the route included free food samples donated by local businesses, and provided an opportunity for community members to give feedback on the consultants' ideas.
The temporary curb extensions were a collaboration between the town, consulting team, and local artist Chris Trees-Neuberger. With the use of Local Motion's Pop-Up Project Mobile Support Unit, these curb extensions showed the possibility of better pedestrian safety and opportunities to beautify with flowers and art.
Bethel Better Block
September 30th - October 2nd, 2016
Better Block is a nationally-renowned program that focuses revitalization efforts from the ground up, starting with temporary pop-ups to set the stage for larger-scale change. Team Better Block, AARP Vermont, the Town of Bethel, and the Bethel Revitalization Initiative worked with a team of volunteers and sponsors to stage this three-day multifaceted and small-scale revitalization effort. The event was everything pop-up, so to speak; biking/walking lanes, curb extensions, parklets, eateries, shops, a bus shelter, and a beer garden.
Public art and Creative Placemaking
Bringing the arts and creative placemaking downtown can inspire, open minds, and enrich our bonds to community and place, for locals and visitors alike.
Old East End Mural
Old East End, Burlington VT
October 28, 2019
The Old East End is a heavily-trafficked neighborhood in Burlington. The Old East End Neighborhood Coalition began in 2018 with an AARP Walk Audit to address how unsafe the neighborhood was for pedestrians and bikers. The neighborhood group worked to create safer pedestrian crossing, better signage, and traffic lights
The Neighborhood Coalition collaborated with artist Tara Goreau to erect this roadside mural to beautify the busy roadway and slow down traffic. This project was funded by grants from AARP Vermont and the UVM Office of Students, and with donations from UVM's Office of Student and Community Relations, SD Ireland Companies, and a community member that raised nearly $5,000.
Jeffersonville Silo Murals
Jeffersonville, Cambridge, VT
June - August 2016
Two massive silos in the town Jeffersonville, once owned by a lumber corporation, found new life as canvases for artist Sarah C. Rutherford. The twin murals of a child and an aged farmer represent Vermont’s future and past. Imagery of hermit thrush and red clover is a thread of continuity between the murals.
Rutherford worked with two interns and LN Bethea, from the Cambridge Arts Council, to prepare and finish the canvases in time for Jeffersonville’s Festival of the Arts. The project was funded by a $15,000 grant from the Vermont Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.
The Waterbury Special
Over Route 100, Waterbury, VT
January - September 2018
An old railroad bridge, that marks the entrance to downtown, was celebrated and beautified by a public art installation. This aluminum sculpture is an ode to Waterbury’s rich architectural and locomotive past. It contains some of the downtown’s iconic buildings, including the Waterbury Congregational Church and the Waterbury Train Station.
Revitalizing Waterbury commissioned this piece from Phillip Godenschwager for a total of $57,800, which came from a variety of local organizations, businesses and individuals. The Town of Waterbury, the Vermont Arts Council, the Waterbury Rotary Club, and the Sons of the American Legion were important partners in this project.
Public spaces and streets need life, and communities across Vermont are activating their public spaces through programming, events, and community celebrations.
Farr’s Hill, Randolph VT
February 21st, 2019 (1st annual)
Randolph's Winterfest is a full day of winter activities to get people outside and active. Vintage snowmobile displays, horse-and-cart rides, sledding competitions, and food trucks abound at the event that attracted over 2,000 people in 2020. It's a collaboration between Farr’s Hill and a Winterfest Committee comprised of community members. The event is free to attend thanks to 36 sponsoring organizations and the work of volunteers.
Burlington Winter Lights Festival
Church Street, Burlington, VT
February 5th - 7th, 2017
The Winter Lights Festival light display is a weekend-long event that includes workshops, activities, and demonstrations sponsored by business partners from around the city.
The light display is the City's reuse of Christmas tree lights from the holiday season. Adding light and color downtown during the dark winter months is a key ingredient to add vitality and life to the downtown.
Public spaces matter more now than ever, and throughout 2020, communities and local businesses quickly responded, with creativity and resolve, to adapt public spaces and streets to safely serve the needs of the community and local businesses during the pandemic.
Brattleboro's Handy Stations
July 2020 - Present
The seven hand sanitizing stations around downtown Brattleboro are prime examples of COVID innovation. The plywood stations are decorated by local artists, feature jingles from local musicians, and coded by students. Each sanitizing station cost $1,200 and are supported and maintained by local businesses.
These stations are products of collaboration between the Human Connection Project, Brattleboro Housing Opportunities, Downtown Brattleboro Alliance, the Arts Council of Windham County, and the City of Brattleboro.
Rutland's Center Street
July 2020 - present
In mid June, the Aldermen of Rutland approved a measure to create additional space for outdoor dining and bike parklets on Center Street. Travel lanes on either side were reduced from 15ft to 10ft wide in order to accommodate this change, and slowed traffic and created a safe and inviting walkable street. Sidewalk art and streetscape planters were placed on the street in order to beautify the new set-up, and keep pedestrians separate from the traffic.
The changes to Center St. took two months and cost ~$18,000. This was a collaboration between the Rutland Redevelopment Authority, Downtown Rutland Partnership, City of Rutland, and the Rutland Regional Planning Commission. The temporary changes had immense positive community feedback, and the Aldermen recently approved a measure for the City to apply for a $30,000 grant from the Agency of Transportation to these changes permanent.