Planning departments and parks agencies often play an integral role in placemaking—or the collective shaping of the public realm to maximize shared value. More than a tool for urban design and planning, placemaking considers how a new or existing space and its programming will serve the community, whether a citywide recreational pathan events space, or a public art installation (PDF).

Though community participation and input are key components of placemaking, collaborations between government agencies and community groups must be intentional to create spaces accessible to all. By embedding equity into their approach, local government agencies can use placemaking to tackle inequities in their community and create a shared identity among residents.

Local government agencies can have different understandings of what it means to develop and steward community spaces. Although some departments may define placemaking as brick-and-mortar development or urban design, others may consider programming and activities as key to creating shared spaces. Developing a shared language of placemaking across agencies and systems can foster cross-sector collaboration and result in a more holistic approach to placemaking. With a collective understanding of placemaking, agencies that oversee public space, urban planning, community programming, and funding can easily align their efforts and work toward creating meaningful community spaces.

Cultivating a shared understanding of equity can also help governments ensure they’re engaging residents intentionally and equitably. Working across agencies, localities can assess: Where are placemaking projects located? Which communities have or haven’t been engaged during the planning process? Will the project reinforce or break down inequities? By developing shared placemaking and equity goals, local governments can ensure their approach to placemaking is equitable in both its process and results (PDF).

Here, we lift two cities that are advancing equitable placemaking in their communities—Akron, Ohio, and Huntsville, Alabama—and the strategies they used.

Read the full article about placemaking efforts in cities by Nyla Holland at Urban Institute.