New North-area economic development officials and municipal leaders at the 5th annual InDevelopment Conference were given an opportunity to think big for their small communities, thanks to speaker Fred Kent, founder and president of the New York-based Project for Public Spaces (PPS), who delivered the keynote “The Power of Place.”
About 275 people attended the Feb. 27 event at the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel in Appleton.
Kent, who has worked on projects and trained developers worldwide on placemaking, or efforts to transform communities into places that draw people, discussed the role of the “power of 10” in achieving that goal.
“When you think about taking a whole region and you say, ‘This region needs 10 major destinations and each of those destinations need 10 places with 10 things to do;’ that’s a big agenda for the whole region,” Kent says. “That’s why you all need to work together to have those destinations. … Very few communities do.”
A successful, people-centric community is not about the award-winning architecture design but how to create the places that are sacred to the people living there, he says.
“We have all these kinds of visual examples in our cities, but we don’t really have those places that we want to be in,” Kent says.
Making communities the place people wants to live starts as small as choosing an appropriate bench for an area.
“You begin to realize how particular people are and how much they want to be in a place that represents them,” Kent says.
Other examples of placemaking include adding physically touchable water sources, a place where people can remove their shoes, places for food, having as many entrances to a building as there are destinations within it, filling vacant buildings with more places for people to utilize, creating multi-purpose buildings, etc.
“What all this does is it gets back to the original principles of what defined a town,” Kent says. “And you could actually do better once you realized … just by taking what infrastructure you have and building and supporting that with these various ways of drawing those out, and giving more identity to it. It’s all about placemaking.”
Karen Harkness, City of Appleton’s director of community and economic development, says she enjoyed being able to look differently at how business should be done with a “turn it upside down” philosophy.
“I think it’s important that we find those places that can become accessible, that are interactive, that are comfortable, that are drawing people, because a community is made when people interact, communicate and talk,” Harkness says. “I’ve always said that it takes a village to do economic development – I’m not an expert, all of us are experts. This is (our) community and we need everybody involved to make sure that it’s what they want, that we embody our culture, that we embody the diversity that we see within our communities.”
The conference also included speed-networking with Northeast Wisconsin Regional Partnership (NEWREP) where attendees learned what projects and opportunities are happening in the New North region, such as business park projects, TIF and BID districts and industrial expansions. The day also featured a real estate panel discussion and three emerging-trend breakout sessions, including a more detailed presentation of Fred Kent’s placemaking ideas, a discussion by FNB Fox Valley CEO Peter Prickett on the 2014 financing forecast, and an idea exchange led ty Pete Moegenberg of Moegenberg Research.
— Felicia Clark