Place-making: Creating a Downtown Where People Want to Be

Our guest blogger is Hopewell Downtown Partnership Executive Director Evan Kaufman.

Over the last 8 years, we have worked hard to facilitate the rehab of downtown properties, recruit new businesses, plan events and festivals, and develop strong partnerships. While we will continue these strategies, it’s time to start implementing some creative place-making strategies to get people to re-claim the downtown.

Place-making is the new frontier. What is it? Exactly as it sounds, the making of a place where people want to be, hang out, eat, shop, and be entertained. People are drawn to places that are walkable, unique, and interesting. As downtown Hopewell redevelops, it’s time to add a touch of its unique fingerprint to the area to bring more authenticity, character, and art to the district.

I recently attended the National Main Street Conference in Seattle, Washington. This is where all the leaders in community development and Main Street communities across the Country (there are over 1,500) get together to share ideas, best practices, and learn from one another. The theme of this year’s conference was place-making and how to turn underutilized and developing spaces into special places for the community.

Hopewell’s Riverwalk

A great example of a place-making project is the new Riverwalk in downtown Hopewell. It is turning an underutilized asset, the Appomattox River, into a destination were people gather with neighbors, friends, and family. At the Hopewell Downtown Partnership, we have applied for two grants to create more place-making projects within downtown. If awarded, the grants will provide funding for public art, murals, and community led creative projects. Some will be permanent and some rotating, keeping things fresh and interesting.

Below are some examples from other communities that are helping to create vibrant spaces that attract residents and tourists to downtown districts. See even more examples on the HDP blog.

Seattle’s Pioneer Square
The “storywalk” is a trail that includes a single page from a children’s book on multiple spots in an area. Families walk along the trail and read the book, which changes periodically.

These types of projects help turn downtown into what is called a “third place”. Urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg says, “while home and work are ‘first’ and ‘second’ places, ‘third places’ are anchors of community life and facilitate and foster broader, more creative interaction. In other words, your third place is where you relax in public, where you encounter familiar faces and make new acquaintances.” We want downtown Hopewell to be everyone’s “third place”.

The hidden talent of Hopewell is its art. From musicians, to painters and performers, the Hopewell community is filled with talented and creative people.  Expressing this in downtown will give it authenticity and make it a unique reflection of its residents, bringing back the character and charm that it was once known for.

Everybody should feel comfortable hanging out downtown as it is a place for all, by all.  With the Main Street program as our guide, we will make downtown Hopewell a healthy, vibrant, and prosperous downtown district for everyone to enjoy.