Connections – The power of place

Posted on Jan 1, 2014 :: Connections
Margaret LeBrun
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer
The Project for Public Spaces, led by founder and president Fred Kent, was involved in the transformation of Times Square in New York City. Kent will keynote InDevelopment 2014 on Feb. 27 in Appleton.

The Project for Public Spaces, led by founder and president Fred Kent, was involved in the transformation of Times Square in New York City. Kent will keynote InDevelopment 2014 on Feb. 27 in Appleton. Photo courtesy New York Department of Transportation

If you’ve been to Times Square in New York City in recent years, you probably noticed it’s mostly closed to traffic now – it’s all about people.

“So many people were coming to Times Square before, but they were walking in the street and it was a hazard,” says Fred Kent, founder and president of the Project for Public Spaces, which was involved in developing the concept that transformed one of the world’s most iconic places, among many others worldwide. “It was a place you would come to look at – and then leave, because there wasn’t anything to do. The plan for Times Square was really breaking out of the mold that ‘a street is for traffic.’”

Kent will keynote Insight’s fifth annual InDevelopment conference on Thursday, Feb. 27 at the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel in Appleton. His talk, “The Power of Place,” sponsored by First National Bank Fox Valley, will offer insight into the future for transforming downtowns into multiple-use gathering places. Such places stir excitement, build a strong sense of community, and, ultimately, increase property values – all desirable ideas for commercial and community developers expected to attend InDevelopment, Kent says.

“From a Realtors’ point of view, if it’s walkable and has a sense of place, the value will be higher,” Kent says. “It’s very much a partnership between public and private developers.

“This is what we call turning everything upside down to get it right-side up,” Kent adds. “What’s really fun is you can explain to people why a place needs to be turned upside down – when you show them development isn’t about isolated institutions with parking lots.”

Led by Kent, the New York City-based Project for Public Spaces has developed transformational ideas for cities

Fred Kent

Fred Kent

worldwide. During the past 37 years, Kent has worked on hundreds of projects, from Times Square, Rockefeller Center and downtown Detroit to Vancouver, B.C., and Cape Town, South Africa. He has trained developers in Singapore, Hong Kong, Scotland, Norway and The Netherlands, among many other places. Before founding PPS, he studied with Margaret Mead and worked with William H. Whyte on the Street Life Project in New York City. Kent was the coordinator and chairman of New York City’s Earth Day in 1970 and in 1990.

The concept of placemaking, Kent explains, is about creating the optimum use for people in a given space – finding ways to develop places “lighter, quicker, cheaper” to attract people. The more activities you can do in a place, the more people will gravitate there. Kent believes in “the power of 10,” meaning an attractive destination will have at least 10 things people can do in it.

“Think of a town or a street as a set of destinations,” he says. “Are there things you can do, or is it really just a building – an object?”

Trends are showing that the automobile culture is beginning to lose out to a greater interest in walkability, Kent says. The Millennial generation is much less enthralled with the car than previous generations (the percentage of 16- to 24-year-olds with a driver’s license is at a new low, just 67 percent, according to the Federal Highway Administration). He believes developers must heed such trends if they want to build sustainable projects.

“People hold onto the idea that the car is sacred, and that is kind of a disease,” Kent says. “They get sucked into this idea that everybody has to have a car.” Such thinking results in projects that require an enormous amount of space for streets and parking, which separate people from each other.

Kent acknowledges it can be a challenge for any community to transform itself, but forward-thinking community developers will find a way.

“This is common sense, it’s not rocket science,” he says. “It appeals to people and their future because they’re helping to define it. It’s enormously satisfying and participatory.” It does, however, require what he calls “zealous nuts,” or passionate community leaders.

“A zealous nut is someone with a poorly developed sense of fear, and no concept of the odds against them. They make the impossible happen.”

InDevelopment 2014, set from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Feb. 27, will include exhibits, lunch and plenty of time for networking throughout the day. Speed networking with members of the Northeast Wisconsin Regional Economic Partnership (NEWREP) will round out the morning. Afternoon breakout sessions on commercial financing and an idea exchange, in addition to the workshop with Kent, will be followed by a commercial real estate panel discussion. The day caps off with a networking cocktail reception.

Coordinated by Insight Publications LLC, this year’s host sponsor is the City of Appleton. In addition to keynote sponsor FNB Fox Valley, other sponsors include Hoffman Planning, Design & Construction, Inc.; Kwik Trip, Inc.; and Schenck, S.C.


To learn more about Fred Kent and the Project for Public Spaces, visit:


8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Feb. 27; Radisson Paper Valley Hotel, Appleton

Tickets: $55 through January; $70 starting Feb. 1.

For more information, call Insight Publications at (920) 882-0491, or click here to register


Tuesday, Jan. 14: The St. Norbert College CEO Breakfast & Strategy Series will feature Jim Ostrum, co-founder and partner of Milk Source, presenting “Large Scale and Sustainable” at the Butte des Morts Country Club in Appleton. The event is from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. Contact [email protected]

Tuesday, Jan. 14: The Heart of the Valley Chamber of Commerce will host a Business Over Breakfast event on healthy recipe makeovers presented by Network Health from 7:45 to 9 a.m. at the chamber office, 101 E. Wisconsin Ave., Kaukauna. The cost is $5 for members and $10 for non-members.

Thursday, Jan. 23: UW-Fox Valley and Pulse Young Professionals, a program of the Fox Cities Regional Partnership, will host the 4th Annual Fox Cities Future 15 Young Professionals Awards from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Communication Arts Center at UW Fox-Valley.

Friday, Jan. 31: Prophit Marketing, Inc. will host its second annual business conference: 2014 Servant Leadership Summit, Reach New Heights. The event will be from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at The Marq banquet and catering facility at 3177 French Road in De Pere. The half-day program will focus on servant leadership and culture. Admission is $225. To register, visit:

Friday, Jan. 31: The Neenah Rotary and Fox Cities Morning Rotary Clubs will host the 10th annual Uncorked and Uncapped wine and beer tasting fundraiser at the Best Western Bridgewood Premier Resort Hotel and Conference Center from 6:30 to 10 p.m. The event features more than 50 wines. Tickets are $50 in advance, $55 at the door and tickets are available through any member of Neenah Rotary, Fox Cities Morning Rotary Club, Red & White and McKnight & Carlson in Appleton, Cellars, Best Western Premier Bridgewood and Uncorked in Neenah, and Club Liquor in Menasha. For more information, visit


Margaret LeBrun

About Margaret LeBrun

Co-Publisher, Executive Editor View all posts by Margaret LeBrun →