A key component of placemaking—or the practice of transforming spaces to better serve the people who use them—is community input. Determining who that community is, however, isn’t simple. It often requires reckoning with power dynamics and understanding that who is or is not included affects whether a project will reinforce or break down inequities.

This work is particularly important in gentrifying neighborhoods, where unregulated developmentreal estate speculation, and revitalization efforts made without addressing residents’ needs threaten to displace entire communities. Gentrification occurs when changes are inserted into a community with the goal of raising values and profits (PDF), rendering the neighborhood a physical and cultural blank slate for developers and new residents to shape. As more affluent residents and businesses move in, gentrification makes longtime or legacy communities invisible.

Local governments can help mitigate the effects of gentrification by supporting placemaking efforts led by legacy residents and by shifting more power in government-led efforts to the community. Placemaking can help communities at risk of displacement reassert their sense of belonging to, ownership of, and connection with a place.

To mitigate the effects of gentrification, local governments can couple direct investment in community-led placemaking efforts with strategies to more equitably engage legacy communities in government-led placemaking efforts.

Community engagement methods exist on a continuum (PDF). On the low end of engagement, a local government informs the community about an initiative with one-way communications methods like town halls and community meetings. On the higher end, a community holds power over or leads a project, while the government provides resources for its implementation. Local governments and other public-sector actors who strive to combat gentrification-induced displacement should empower legacy communities as equal partners in their placemaking efforts. To help shift resources and decisionmaking power, governments can include community members in data analysis, hire community members as senior paid staff at a relevant agency, and create community action boards.

When leading a placemaking effort in a gentrifying area, it’s also important for governments to critically consider how their own policies and practices promote gentrification. Neglecting antidisplacement measures and landlord regulations, offering tax breaks to developers, and funding development-directed policing can erode trust between local governments and communities at risk of displacement. Placemaking is a powerful tool local governments can use to keep legacy communities connected to a place, but it alone will not stave off gentrification-based displacement.

Read the full article about placemaking efforts in gentrifying neighborhoods by Gabi Velasco at Urban Institute.