Placemaking: The Kissing Alley

Originally published on November 6, 2018 by the Montrose Daily Press.

Last week was a really great week. Halloween provided many smiles as my husband and I showed off our tiny Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle during Trunk or Treat. In addition, the city got to host 35 out-of-town visitors during the Colorado Main Street Managers Summit. Thursday and Friday were spent learning about downtown revitalization with other industry professionals from across the state.

My favorite presentation during the summit was about placemaking. What is placemaking? According to the Project for Public Spaces, “Placemaking inspires people to collectively re-imagine and reinvent public spaces as the heart of every community. Strengthening the connection between people and the places they share, placemaking refers to a collaborative process by which we can shape our public realm in order to maximize shared value. More than just promoting better urban design, placemaking facilitates creative patterns of use, paying particular attention to the physical, cultural and social identities that define a place and support its ongoing evolution.”

Placemaking is more about planning places around people rather than asking people to plan their activities around places. It takes the concept of a simple place, such as a bus stop, alleyway or dirt lot, and utilizes human imagination by making it a place people actively seek to be. Placemaking asks that every space have at least 10 things people can do within it and that it (the space) appeal to an 8-year-old as well as an 80-year-old.

During the placemaking workshop last week, we split into five groups and walked to some “less loveable” spots downtown. The facilitator had done her homework by first walking around our Main Street and identifying five spaces ripe for this exercise. My group was assigned the little “alleyway” between the Real Estate Store and the Color Connection in the 500 block of East Main. This walkway connects Main Street to the public parking lot adjacent to City Hall and behind Intrinzik.

Prior to this exercise, I was not aware this space existed even though it is right next to where I work. When we arrived there, I felt energized by the potential of the little walkway.

As directed, we first brainstormed what we liked best about the space:

· It is safe from traffic

· It seems like a connection point

· The planters in the middle have potential

· Trees

We then brainstormed easy ideas to improve the space that could be done right away and don’t cost a lot:

· Add lights across the top

· Add color onto sidewalks or doorways

· Art to draw people in

Next we talked about more long term changes:

· Fill in lower areas so the walkway becomes ADA accessible

· Level out middle

· Benches

· Astroturf

· Signs that tell people “walk through to Main Street”

· Make this a destination itself

· Create a safe place or “kid zone” during the farmer’s market or other events at Centennial Plaza

The worksheet wanted us to ask someone who is currently in the space what they like about it. There was not currently anyone in the area.

Finally, we brainstormed local partnerships or people who could help make these ideas happen:

· The farmer’s market

· Surrounding businesses- see if they would be interested in matching grants

· Local artists to design space

· Child care providers for kid zone (pop-up child care during farmer’s market?)

Upon returning from our expedition, the facilitator asked us to think about ten things people would be able to do inside our space (after it is complete):

1. Enjoy a beautiful walkway as they travel between a parking lot and Main Street

2. Read a book

3. Enjoy art

4. Let their children play

5. Take selfies

6. Eat lunch

7. Hold a small event

8. Plant flowers

9. Dance

10. Smooch their sweetheart (could this be the kissing alley?)

This exercise energized me toward an attitude of action. What can we do as a community with some creative people, a little bit of elbow grease, and a tiny bit of funding? Neighborhoods could use an exercise like this to reimagine a place. Businesses can utilize it to improve their external or internal appearance. Is there a space in your world that can benefit from this? Want to get together and placemake it?

Chelsea Rosty is the director of business innovation for the City of Montrose. She can be reached at crosty@ci.montrose.co.us