Transforming public space through placemaking

Placemaking has long been used as a tool to create a sense of place and reimagine public spaces in communities. The foundation of placemaking rests on the relationships people have to places, and depends on collective energy and vision to transform the public sphere. From streetscaping to murals, food trucks to outdoor festivals, placemaking is about diverse groups of people coming together to shape and improve physical, cultural, and social elements of public spaces.

Placemaking efforts often occur through small investments that can go a long way in enhancing the character and livability of a community. An increase in interest and activity in an area illustrated through a placemaking project can have a catalytic effect, opening the door to further public or private sector investment. Local governments across the Chicago region have played a central role in developing and implementing placemaking projects. Below are several examples of successful Chicagoland placemaking projects that have resulted in more vibrant and livable communities.

Ross Ferraro Town Center (Carol Stream, IL)

Originally completed in 1998, the Ross Ferraro Town Center is a village-owned park space that, according to Carol Stream’s 2016 Comprehensive Plan, serves as one of the Village’s opportunity areas for future investment. Carol Steam did not develop along any rail lines and does not currently have a pedestrian-scale downtown. The Town Center was built to catalyze new commercial and residential development, and has been embraced by residents for its scenery, recreational opportunities, and outdoor events it hosts in the warmer months. The Town Center is adjacent to some Carol Stream Park District facilities, including outdoor trails and a brand new indoor recreation center. The Fountains at Town Center, a complex of 145 town homes and mixed-use retail, lies just north of the Ross Ferraro Town Center. The Comprehensive Plan outlines an ambitious vision for several undeveloped parcels close to the Town Center, and seeks to further strengthen the Town Center’s identity as a community gathering place.  

Active Transportation Alliance pop-up Complete Streets projects (multiple locations)

In the summer and fall of 2016, Active Transportation Alliance coordinated temporary demonstrations that highlighted the value of providing communities with safer, more engaging streets. Through their Complete Streets Initiative, pop-up projects in six suburban communities were set up to educate residents on the recreational and transit-related benefits that complete streets infrastructure could provide to their communities. Willow Springs, Steger, Midlothian, Richton Park, Skokie, and South Chicago Heights partnered with the Active Transportation Alliance to develop and implement pop-up projects in their communities. The demonstrations were well-received by residents, and in more than one instance, remained longer than intended as a result of their popularity.

Mariano’s Fresh Market (Harwood Heights, IL)

In 2012, the Harwood Heights Village Board approved a $20 million development—including a Mariano’s Fresh Market—on the site of two former industrial companies. The village was proactive in rezoning and recruiting a retail anchor for this section of Lawrence Avenue, as was laid out in its 2011 comprehensive plan. Not only did the development serve as an economic engine for the community, creating hundreds of jobs and significant sales tax revenue, but it also complemented existing streetscaping efforts along Lawrence Avenue that began in 2006.


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