Revitalizing Cities via

Revitalizing Cities via

Above: “Chalk Flood” at Rosa Park Circle, Grand Rapids

Back at the CEOs for Cities conference in October, a panel of mayors all overwhelmingly described their interest in attracting young, talented workers to their cities. Mayor Mick Cornett explained how he went as far as attracting the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team to the city – because all young people love sports, right? It must give them a way to identify with their city.

Aside from this example, few mayors explained how they planned to attract this young, “creative class.” And certainly, cities should not haphazardly start bidding for sports teams as a recruitment strategy.

So what can cities do?

There’s a rising movement toward “placemaking” – i.e. strategically creating places that people gravitate to because they are appealing and enjoyable.

Grand Rapids is just one of the several cities championing placemaking as a way to attract Millenials and mobile entrepreneurs.

It began when Rob Bliss, a Michigan native in his early-20s, started asking questions like, “Why not have a waterslide downtown?” Or “What would it look like to launch 100,000 paper airplanes off the roof of 12-story city buildings?”

Bliss found that these types of events helped to galvanize residents. People wanted to feel like they were a part of something, actively engaged in their community. In an interview this morning with radio host Dr. Katherine Loflin, Bliss explains that trying to herd residents via community service simply won’t create the sense of place that energized communities.

Why is this sort of placemaking needed?  In January 2011, Newsweek published an article naming “America’s Dying Cities.” Grand Rapids was #10 on the list. Such a reputation is certainly not going to help the city’s efforts to attract people back to the former “Furniture Capital” of the world.

But Zombie Walks, Chalk Floods and Annual Downtown Santa Invasions might do the trick. Oh, and there was that widely publicized “LipDub” video, too. With over 4.4 million views on YouTube, the Grand Rapids residents’ rendition of “American Pie” was created in response to the Newsweek article to showcase the passion and energy of the city. 

It seems to have worked.

Newsweek responded by posting a Memo to Grand Rapids on their Facebook page, stating:

First off, we LOVE your YouTube LipDub. We’re big fans, and are inspired by your love of the city you call home.

But so you know what was up with the list you’re responding to, we want you to know it was done by a website called–not by Newsweek (it was unfortunately picked up on the Newsweek web site as part of a content sharing deal)–and it uses a methodology that our current editorial team doesn’t endorse and wouldn’t have employed. It certainly doesn’t reflect our view of Grand Rapids.

That’s one way to attract attention to your city.

While Grand Rapids is trying to use social activities to draw young people to their urban enclave, other communities are using the arts.

Dennis Scholl, Vice President at the Knight Foundation, explains that thousands of people in 26 cities were surveyed to ascertain what attracts them to their community. For the past three years, the overwhelming answer was “social offerings, including the arts.”

He goes on to explain that workforce development and job creation aren’t the only ways to create vibrancy in communities. Investing in art is another way. Artists often move to depressed urban areas where space for studios is inexpensive. Before long, coffee shops and restaurants start to pop up. It changed how the neighborhood is perceived. Small businesses then move in to service the needs of the artist communities. As a result, real estate prices increase (i.e. that dirty word—gentrification).

Regardless of whether you’re pro- or anti-gentrification, the reality is these placemaking efforts are helping to revitalize distressed communities and promote urban economic development.

And these placemaking efforts – which often include creating parks and spaces for outdoor entertainment – are much more practical and fiscally prudent than trying to invest taxpayer money in chasing sports stadiums. City officials: take note. 

Oh this so great. I wish we can try it here, I don’t know if I can show it to our Mayors, my Brother is Area Council Chairman I make a copy of it a maybe he can so it 2 them.

By Steven Pedigo on 01/26/2012

Very interested in attending any workshops on the west coast.

By Richard Strathern on 02/29/2012

January 17th, 2012

TAGS: economic development | cities | community development | jobs | workforce | grand rapids | knight foundation

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