Community opening for mural project

Small Urban

Small urban refers to cities around 10,000 and 50,000 in population, or suburbs of larger communities.

Lessons Learned: 
Ensuring Strong Community Engagement

Creative placemaking projects in small urban settings often emphasized how important the community engagement component of their project was to contributing to the overall success of their efforts.  There are many different resources available to help project managers think through different community engagement ideas and opportunities. 

Two key organizations which provide both general and step-by-step resource materials are the International Association of Public Participation (IAP2) and the National Coalition of Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD).  The websites of both organizations offer a wide array of traditional (and innovative) practices and materials that can help practitioners think through the issues of implementation.  For ideas on more non-traditional, arts-based ideas the Animating Democracy website provides a broad array of case studies and links to resources that illustrate what current practitioners are doing

In Berea, Kentucky, where the City of Berea and the Berea Arts Council teamed up to create a downtown wayfinding system that would guide visitors to different arts venues,  project partners recommended to others to, “start with lots of community input --  leave personal agendas at the door  -- carefully get consensus with your audience.”  

In Burlington, Vermont, the non-profit organization Burlington City Arts worked to develop a masterplan for City Hall Park. The master planning process was organized around an innovative series of events where citizens could learn about the planning efforts and give their input.  ”Burlington is a city that is used to public engagement, but it has not always done a good job of making sure that feedback is coming from a wide demographic, or that different types of forums are employed to get feedback from people who will never attend a typical public meeting. This project's vision presented the arts as a tool for multi-modal engagement, and our final design was infused with the feedback that was created through the arts.”

Working within a Regional Context

Small urban areas can be much like rural areas in the fact that they are very tied culturally and economically to the region that surrounds them. 

Creating projects that tie into larger social and economic issues can be a strategic way to foster the dynamic and productive partnerships between local, regional, and state organizations that can help ensure a project’s longer-term success. 

In Opa-locka, FL, is a good example of how to connect the dots, "Well Opa Locka as a city is in a rebranding or transformation phase.  Part of that has to be inclusive of the art feel, the artist all around.  Miami has become a mecca of art.  Other cities in the county have used art as a part of how they present the city in creating signature pieces within the city.  Most buildings that go up within the city now have an art component.  And it’s essential that as the city of Opa Locka moves into this rebranding and transformation phase that we’re inclusive of the art industry and community because it will also gives us a signature of how people will see the improvements, and that we’ve really come to understand the importance of art and artists within our communities.... the project came about really in 2010, the CDC was awarded a large federal grant stimulus fund for neighborhood stabilization.   So the CDC brought together different urban planers, architects, designers, people from the city, and they came to Opa Loca to really think about how to leverage this money, and do a complete transformation of the neighborhood—not just with housing.  They saw that the assets of the Opa Locka community were the Moorish architecture, the collection of auto parts recycling industries, and also the proximity that it has to the Miami Dade county with the arts scene.  So we applied for the Nation Endowment for the Arts grant for the Our Town program to remove barricades around one of the neighborhoods called the Triangle."

Building Local Leadership Support

At the heart of creative placemaking efforts are the diverse, and often complex, relationships that are needed to support the implementation of large-scale projects.  From businesses, to foundations, to the nonprofit sector, each partner brings particular perspectives and resources to bear. 

Central to these are the governmental partnerships that define most Our Town projects.  Working with city staff and leaders is essential for aligning project goals with public priorities and for garnering the larger community backing needed to see projects succeed. Working within that realm, however, is not always easy and the priorities of elected officials are not always transparent.  Often persistence and determination are needed to move through the numerous conversations that need to happen to persuade policy makers. 

When working with elected officials, it is important to bring information that touches on both the dry facts of the issue, but also information that more fully illustrates the impact of how the community is being impacted.  Policy makers and advocates have found that nothing does this better than through the communication of clear, evocative personal stories.  Working with artists to capture first-person stories, and re-present them in a compelling manner, can help  policy makers (who work through large amounts of issues every day) connect more quickly with the ideas and information that are brought to them.