Placemaking DIY: Pt. III


In this final edition of Placemaking DIYs, I focus on new solutions to old problems. Indeed place provides an important vehicle to address problems, often entrenched, in various aspects of our lives.  With a little creativity and a slight shift of the place kaleidoscope new, innovative solutions can present themselves.

Hug What You Love

A few years back, St. Louis was embarking on a strategic planning process and some on the ground floor of that work noticed that even from the outset, the conversation was very deficit-driven. “We need to fix this.” “This a real problem.” So even at the beginning at the planning for the future, folks were feeling perhaps a bit defeated before they started. Until a counterargument emerged that pointed out that there were lots of great things about St. Louis and those things couldn’t be lost in the conversation in visioning the future. So St. Louis GroupHug was born.


Residents were encouraged to “hug what you love about St. Louis and post it” to a designated site. These pictures were then exhibited around the community and the favorite was voted on (The lady “hugging” the bike lane won.). But this hit an important reset button for changing the initial conversation of future planning from deficit-based to strength-based which, in turn, created more engagement in the process (often a chronic issue for places).

Let the Love Grow

Urban community gardens are not a new idea. But I think we can sometimes fail to see the systemic impact they can have. Take for example the Camden Street Learning Garden. This program, as many urban community gardens, was established to do something about vacant lots, dearth of fruit and vegetable access, isolation of people from place, while teaching marketable skills and instilling greater pride in place.


Today many residents are proud graduates of the Seeds to Supper course taught by the local Master Gardeners and the garden serves as a positive gathering place in the community where people can receive locally grown produce. It has turned what was once a vacant lot into a model of environmental stewardship, learning, and social cohesion.

Planes, Trains and…Kayaks?

Lately, we are also seeing more innovative transportation problem-solvers. Carpool lanes, biking to work, and public transportation are nothing new. But how about taking advantage of nearby waterways and kayaking to work or skating to work?

placemaking-diy-3-3 placemaking-diy-3-4

Indeed, I’ve done the Ottawa shuffle with the best of them, but we have to remember that water is a year-round mode of transport. Finding new ways to use (and enjoy) our place effectively can not only solve old problems, but also bring us closer to the place as we learn to appreciate it even more.

Digging for Innovation

Finding new ways to tell our narrative as a place is a frequent topic of conversation these days. What’s our place brand? Our competitive advantage? And I have been among those working on those issues on-the-ground in places. So I’m always on the lookout for new ways to do that effectively. If you are a subscriber, you already know about my work in the original production, “Finding Patience: The Story of Holly Springs.” In a previous blog, I’ve mentioned the burgeoning Graveyard Gardeners program in Raleigh’s Historic Oakwood Cemetery.  The Raleigh program is actually a replication of a program in Philadelphia.


What a great way to learn about the individual histories of people who were in your place before you and the contribution they made to making it what it is. It also provides a great family-friendly community service activity, while ensuring that historic spaces are maintained and well-cared for.

What’s Old Can Be New

And lastly, in wrapping up the Placemaking DIY series, I have to give out a shout-out to another of my favorites. Often, when I work in places, I see the constant push and pull between development and preservation that can truly immobilize places: “This is part of our history and we must hold on to it no matter what.” “We have to continue to grow and evolve and this is just too expensive to maintain.” I get both sides. What’s at the heart of it is a fear of loss of place versus a fear of stagnation and stunted economic development. That’s why I’m increasingly a fan of the salvage industry and the third option it provides in these conversations.


Black Dog Salvage, pictured above and also a very popular show on the DIY Network, Salvage Dawgs, is a field leader in this important work. Proper salvage allows you to save the specific things that make the structure meaningful for display or repurpose. Not only does it provide the needed third option for places, it also provides a new opportunity for the meaningful elements and symbols of a place to be seen and appreciated by the larger community. It is also a powerful tool in translating place narrative and brand. In essence, these guys allow places do to both: honor their history while enabling them to move forward. In my opinion, they are among the placemakers’ (and place leadership’s and developers’) best friends. But doing this work often requires expertise and technical training, so not something we can all go DIY, but certainly learn to appreciate, support, and turn to when places finding themselves at the development crossroads. And they all do.

Placemaking DIY: Pt. II

Welcome to the second installment of my blog series on Placemaking DIY. This week I focus on the DIYs that work equally well to benefit residents and visitors alike and present the place in a way that inspires love and economic growth.


Walk the Walk

Walking Tours of the place are popular with both residents and visitors. Jane’s Walk is an example of one such Walking Tour program that has grown in international popularity. In honor of Jane Jacobs, a pioneer in urbanism, these resident-led walks happen every year the first week of May. It’s a plug and play program – residents volunteer to lead a walk through an area of a their place, highlighting one particular theme. New residents, long-time residents, and even children have led walks to talk about some aspect of their place they want to share and discuss with fellow residents (and leaders).


What I love about this kind of program is that it is very easy to implement, practically free to produce, and yet can make a real impact in people getting insight into their place. It also combines all the main community features most powerful in deepening attachment: a social opportunity, often in an aesthetically pleasing setting, where anyone and everyone is encouraged to come along. When I brought Jane’s Walk to Raleigh, I was amazed at how much engagement we had from the community and the hunger people had to do this kind more often—some suggested weekly versus annually.

Show Us The Money

Similarly, Macon Money was a program designed to bring people together in an innovative way to learn something new without feeling like they are being “taught.” The idea was simple. In Macon, Georgia, special monetary denominations were created with specific locally-significant symbols printed down the middle. Then the “money” is cut in half and distributed to different areas of the place. Then the goal of the game is to find your other half, matching the symbols. Once you find your match, you meet someone perhaps you didn’t know in the community and then spend the Macon Money in a local business.


This program was so popular in Macon and so brilliant in its simple, yet affective approach that it won an international gaming award. Although we all know that more than the game was going on in Macon through this program.

Immerse Yourself: People First Tourism

Another great idea growing in popularity takes advantage of the new trend in tourism towards place-immersion experiences.  People First Tourism provides truly local authentic experience to visitor (and residents!).


Although this program started recently in my area in Raleigh, NC, it has already become an international program. The appeal is easy to see: one of the best ways to get to know a place is to get to know its people and what matters to them so that common ground can be established with place as the facilitator for the experience. It is a win-win for place and people.

Sharing stories with others has been the go-to way to relay our history and narrative since we were scratching it out on cave walls. It persists because it’s powerful and effective in sharing understanding, and the journey so far to keep us focused on what’s ahead. Every place’s people fears a loss of their narrative at one point or another. In fact, often when places get mired in discussions of pro/anti-development, it is the really the push-pull of progress at the loss of place which is the true issue beneath the disagreement.

HearSay or HereSay?

Storytelling and oral histories help keep the narrative and identify of places alive for residents and tourists.  There are many programs that see to it – from oral histories kept in local libraries, from designated community storytelling days, to programs that combine technology and “old school” to convey the story.  HereSay out of Newfoundland is one of my favorites. Along the streets of St. John’s and Torbay are pink signs that encourage people to “hear about here” with a phone number and a code. When the number is called and code is entered, the caller hears a recorded story told in a local’s voice about something significant that took place at the very place the listener is standing.


The stories are powerful, poignant, humorous, or heartbreaking – sometimes all in one. And to hear them being told by the people it happened to—in this case in the beautiful Newfoundlander accent versus a polished voiceover—make them even more so. Also, if you aren’t going to make it to Newfoundland anytime soon, you can go on their website and listen to all the stories there by clicking markers on the virtual maps posted. I love them all, but my favorite may be the “Suck His Nose” story.

Your Turn

I hope you find these ideas inspiring and show you how easy and accessible placemaking can be. New and powerful placemaking ideas are created every day! What’s yours?

Placemaking DIY: Pt. I

I’m kicking off a new blog series: Placemaking DIY. I love DIY (do-it-yourself) ideas as you’ll see in the months to come. So to officially kick off Summer, I thought I would combine two of my favorite summer activities in this blog series – placemaking and DIY.

I wanted to share some easy to implement, inexpensive, yet effective ideas that you can explore and maybe even do this summer to strengthen your own Place Match as well as help fellow residents with theirs in all stages of their relationship with their place.

Now remember, these ideas are for inspiration not necessarily direct replication. That is, take the essence of the idea and customize it to the narrative and identity of your place to reflect that context.

DIY Dining

One of my favorite ideas that I have seen replicated in various forms is large scale outdoor community dinners that highlight farm to table, support local, and provide social cohesion in an attractive iconic location for the place. This work is exemplified by the organization, Outstanding in the Field, but there are others who do this work locally.

What I love about this idea is that it combines all the community features discussed in my Soul Searching series of aesthetics, social offerings, and openness in one powerful event. Sometimes the dinner is to raise funds to sustain a local landmark, as is the case with the Iron Bridge Dinner. Other times it serves to just honor local farmers and businesses or simply bring people together for one meal.

DIY on the Hunt

It’s important, and easy, to get the kids involved in facilitating belonging and love of place this summer. One such idea is a twist on the popularity of Pokemon Go and geocaching. Locally to me, it’s called Raleigh Rocks or 919 Rocks, but check and see if you have a similar group growing – or start your own! The idea is simple: Paint rocks with characters, symbols, nature, or even sayings and then “hide” them in local public spaces in your area. Take a picture of the rock and a hint of where the rock is hidden and upload it to the designated Facebook site.  Then when the rock is found by others, they take another picture and post it.  Then decide to rehide it or keep it!

What’s great about this idea is that it gets folks out and exploring place this summer with the kids (or even just the adults), with a craft built in! Hints posted on the Facebook site may be intriguing by the location or just the opportunity to seize a beautiful piece of free art! People often end up in public places they’ve never been or had forgotten about – what a great excuse to (re)discover your place both by hiding and searching.

DIY for the Bookworms

Another great Placemaking DIY idea perfect for summer is the Free Little Library. Again the premise is simple, the idea is cheap and the impact for place and residents can be powerful. Small, library hutches are established in downtown, outside businesses, in parks, even in front of your house, where families who pass by are invited to “take a book and leave a book”. Pop in a reading bench nearby or a reclaimed tree trunk and you’re up and running.

This is a great offering for areas where the local public library isn’t walkable or to simply create a sharing site in your place. The idea is very popular: millions of books are exchanged each year in over 50,000 Free Little Libraries in over 70 countries around the world. It also serves as a great service project or business sponsorship opportunity for a little place-based philanthropy.

DIY Wayfinding

Wayfinding in your city is a great Placemaking DIY project. And my friend, Matt Tomasulo, who I wrote about in Place Match, has done all the heavy lifting for you. Matt’s idea, Walk Your City, allows residents to post well-made, professional signs around your city reminding (or informing) residents and visitors alike how walkable their place is.

With a sign that says, “It’s a 10-minute walk to the Capitol from here” and a QR code map built in, it helps change the perception that driving to the hot spots of your locale is necessary. Add in the health benefits of walking and place experiences you’ll have along the walk, Matt has come up with a real winner. Which is why Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Knight Foundation funded the replication of Matt’s idea beyond where it started in Raleigh, to around the world.

DIY Ya’ll Come

Lastly, when you love where you live, one of the best things we all can do is invite people to visit you there. If you think about it, the things we show off about our place is what inspires our attachment, belonging, and pride about living there. So sometimes having visitors in town allows you to reconnect to your place while giving your guests a real authentic place experience, which is exactly what visitors want these days.

Some places have used postcard campaigns to encourage residents to invite friends and family to visit. Again, a super easy and inexpensive idea that can have great impact for place and people. Of course, tourism, economic development, and local businesses love the idea.

Similar postcard campaigns have been used to keep connection with young talent who left the area to attend college. These tokens send the message that they are missed, valued, and welcomed to return when their schooling is complete. When I was touring the country talking about the Soul project, the no. 1 thing young talent told me that predicted whether they would “boomerang” back to their place of origin was simply being asked to return where their talents are needed. So never doubt the power of “the ask”.

What’s to come in Placemaking DIY?

I’ll be sharing more of my favorite Placemaking DIY ideas. But I would love to hear some of yours too! Make sure and share them with me in the comments or on social media, and I may just add yours to my Idea Portfolio that gets shared around the world.

Aspects of Place Review & Homework!


So let’s review some of the headlines from Knight Soul of the Community project that I’ve covered in the last three blogs. The community features most associated with a loved place are social offerings, aesthetics and openness.  Basically people most love places where they enjoy the opportunities for positive social interaction, in an environment that they find attractive, where it feels easy for them and others to belong.  And when people love their place, the place grows better economically—just as with people, loved places do better.

When reviewing the community features most associated with the loved place, an easy parallel can be drawn between people with places, and people with people. When we search for a partner, we prioritize someone who we enjoy doing things with and have fun with, find attractive, and feel a sense of belonging and acceptance with.

It was that parallel that, if you’ve read Place Match you know, occurred to me live and on-stage during a keynote in Ottawa, that inspired me talk about place science in terms of finding and keeping the right partner. The more I applied that framework through the book, previous blogs, and talks, the more I found that the application was an easy to digest one.

In recent weeks, I have been beta testing a new, very short quiz that diagnoses your current relationship status with your place and produces a customized prescription for navigating that particular stage. At the end of the quiz, there are six possible outcome relationship statuses with your place:


  1. First Dates
  2. Exclusively Dating


  1. Newlywed
  2. Old Married Couple


  1. Looking Around
  2. Starting Over

You can probably guess some of the meanings, tasks, strengths, and challenges of each of those statuses – because we have all been through some version of each in our interpersonal relationships! My goal with the quiz is to help you better understand what your current relationship status is in your place so you can be more cognizant as you continue to manage that relationship. From there, you can better know where you are, what it means, and the potential impact your status is likely having in your own quality of life so you can be more deliberate in the relationship.

I’m excited to officially launch the quiz today! It’s very short, simple, and user-friendly, so give it a shot below. And though it does not necessarily have the scientific rigor of my research on the ground in places, the beta testing did reveal that users reported it as being highly accurate in predicting their perceived relationship status and the resulting prescriptions as being validating and useful to them.

So what are you waiting for? See what you get, ask your friends and family to take it, share your results on social media, and tag or share with me so I can see too.  Soon, I want to start engaging with you in our own online community and social media chats, so your results can serve as your invitation to discuss this more and go even further in the future!

Openness & Placemaking

In this blog, I discuss the final top community feature most associated with the loved place: openness. Openness as we measured it in the Knight Soul of the Community project is really about how anyone could make a life for themselves in a place.  The sense of welcomeness and belonging they and others feel in that place.  Because we wanted to take a comprehensive look at openness, we measured perceived welcomeness of certain demographic groups, but also at different stages of life.

For me, this is where Place Match most directly happens: the place providing an environment that inspires your sense of belonging to it. In the local historical stage production I’m currently in, “Finding Patience: The Story of Holly Springs”, the tagline is “sometimes you don’t choose a town, a town chooses you”. And that gets to what I want for everyone: for people and places to actively choose each other. Openness and welcoming produces the environment and culture where belonging can seed and thrive.

It is a very important part of the place equation, but it can also be the hardest. We found in the Soul project that many places struggle at being open and welcoming to some groups more than others.  And that’s not terribly surprising on the surface.  But what groups were perceived as more or less welcomed were.

For example, in almost all places all three years of the study, young talent was perceived to be the least welcomed group in places, much less welcomed than historically disenfranchised groups. This finding undoubtedly was partially the product of the economic climate at the time—the job market wasn’t great for many at the end of the last decade. But that’s not the whole story.

When I would ask residents their mind process in answering the question: ‘How welcoming is this place for young talent?’ I discovered something interesting. When people 35 years old and older answered that question, the first and biggest factor they considered was the availability of jobs. But when people 35 years old and younger answered that question, the first and biggest factor they considered was the place itself. So there was a generational divide in mindset answering that question that showed up in the findings as differing perspectives on the same place.

Inevitably discussions on openness – whether we are talking about a demographic group or phase of life – turn to conversations about tolerance. Which I actually shy away from. Let me explain. Tolerance is about how well one group puts up with another group. It replicates the power differential where one has control over the experience of another: “I’m going to put up with you and isn’t that nice of me?”.

Instead, our goal in places on openness should be belonging. That you feel you belong here as much as I do and it has nothing to do with whether or not anyone allows it, but more about our common bond of love for this place. By engendering belonging instead of tolerance per se, we finally make openness about what it should be: the relationship people have with their place and how that makes them feel.

Now of course our fellow residents do contribute to the culture of the place through openness. In fact, residents play a role in all the top features of a loved place. Through social offerings, residents create those opportunities for social interaction through government or the private sector, but they also shape the quality of the social offerings in how we treat each other in those interactions. Through aesthetics, residents contribute to how the place is built, preserved, and honored in its upkeep.

But for openness, residents carry more of the responsibility in creating the community culture and the “feel” of a place. Fellow residents finding that sense of belonging is key to openness. You can make that easier or harder. Which will you choose?

The higher the quotient of people who feel they belong in a place and love it – regardless of their age, background, or status – the more the place and the people within it will thrive.  Soul of the Community showed us that empirically.  And shared love of place is a great common denominator and common ground from which diverse relationships can authentically grow that only make us stronger as a whole.

Courtesy Nick Arnett

Aesthetics & Place Match

Last week in this series, I discussed the importance of social offerings, the opportunities for positive social interaction in the community, for both people and places. This week, I turn to the second most important thing in creating loved places according to the Soul of the Community: aesthetics. Aesthetics was found to be the second or third most important thing in creating a loved place in all 26 cities, all three years of the study.

Looks Aren’t Everything (But Close)

Two general areas help comprise aesthetics: what was there when humans showed up (natural beauty) and how humans built it up (created beauty).  Unfortunately, before the Soul findings were released, it was common for some in community to see aesthetics as extra/a value add. In fact, when budgets get tight in places, aesthetics are among the first to get the red ink and a lot of exactly that happened at the time of the study. Of course, hard choices have to be made, but there does seem to be a consequence when aesthetics are cut. It’s seen as extra, when in actuality it’s foundational to the place.

A subsequent study I did in Charlotte found the need for aesthetics remains high in creating a loved place regardless of socioeconomic status. In other words, the need to feel dignity and pride in your environment remains regardless of personal income and wealth.  Luckily, aesthetics is highly scaleable depending on those factors. In fact, even a little (such as simply maintained properties/no blight and common spaces with minimal landscaping) can make a difference in creating aesthetics.

So why are aesthetics so important? First off, aesthetics is the first and most consistent message a place sends about itself to residents and visitors. Place aesthetics are everywhere. When you are creating a loved place, you have to view your entire place through that aesthetic lens. Again, it can be scaled – and should be depending on the narrative of your place (that law still applies). Some areas may look better than others, but it all matters and sends a message to us as its inhabitants about the pride we should feel in being in that space. And pride is related to our attachment and love of that place.  Pride also matters in not only how we feel about a space, but also translates to how we feel about ourselves. If we look around and see negative reflections of our environment coming back to us, it can affect how we care for the place and also how we perceive ourselves. Pretty important stuff.

Your Homework

So look around your place today as you go through your daily life. What messages is your place sending about itself and how does it make you feel about the place, and even yourself? Do you feel a sense of pride and optimism? Or…not so much? We often see lifestyle magazines and health experts advocate for your bedroom, your bathroom or your home as your castle, your sanctuary. True. But the place (outside of the home) is the kingdom where many spend the majority of their day.  And at its most basic level, having a partner we find attractive is critical to the Place Match.

Social Offerings & Place Match


Last week, I started the Soul Search Series, focusing on the findings of the Knight Soul of the Community Project. To review: the purpose of the project was to understand what made people love where they lived and why it mattered in 26 US cities over three years (2008-2010). The study was considered groundbreaking because it presented, for the first time, empirical support from a large sample over time that emotional attachment to place can be measured, the qualities of a loved place could be identified, and that feelings about a place were associated with hard outcomes for the place.

I also shared that we found remarkable consistency each year of the study to the community features most associated with the loved place: social offerings, aesthetics, and openness.  It’s hard to ignore the parallels of place match and partner match.

We look for someone we have a good time with, that we find attractive, and who is accepting. When we find that in someone, it creates feelings of love, loyalty, pride, and optimism that inspires us to support the partner and sustain the relationship.

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

The community feature most strongly associated with the loved place – in every year of the study – in all 26 places – was social offerings.  Reread that last sentence. And it wasn’t even close in comparison. Social offerings was more highly associated with the loved place than any of the other 10 features we studied about those places. It was much higher than safety, higher than leadership and the local economy, and higher than infrastructure.

The fact that we found it to be #1 each year in each city may seem like a boring finding to some, but to researchers it points to something important: replication and validity of a finding. It means you are on to something important in the way we understand something. And since Soul concluded, others including myself have reconfirmed the finding that it is job #1 in creating a loved place.

Why is social offerings so important in the creation of a loved place? Well, I gave you a hint last week: we are only human. Humans are, by nature, social beings. From the time we are born until the day we die, we need human interaction to thrive. One of the first things that happen when a baby is born is skin to skin contact with the mother.

Further, what is consistently one of the roots of many of the social ills we face today? Isolation. Recent studies report social isolation is as harmful for us as smoking and obesity and can affect our bodies as badly as high blood pressure, cancer or heart disease.

It matters. For so much.

Our place is often the first go-to in meeting our human need to be social. If we love how our place provides opportunities for social interaction and it’s a positive experience, we seem to love our place a little more and seek to sustain the environment. If we don’t like the social offerings provided, or they are not a positive experience for us, we withdraw from our place, love it less, and are generally more apathetic about that environment.

This, in turn, is bad news for us and the environment.

What Makes It Great?

So what makes a good social offering? The unsatisfying answer: it depends.

Our social offerings have to match the place. New York City’s social offerings may not do as well in Macon, Georgia. Nor should they. That’s why knowing your narrative and place brand is so important. It is the basis from which you build the loved place. Therefore, you have to do your homework.

Formal Social Offerings

Social offerings often fall into two categories: formal and informal. Formal social offerings are things like the nightlife, theater shows, sports games, festivals – the things the city (through the private and public sector) provide to the residents for their enjoyment.

Cities spend a lot of time and money trying to anticipate the desires of its residents and visitors by providing the social offerings they think they will enjoy. They use marketing research, focus groups, local competitions, and so much more to try and anticipate the needs of its resident and visitor populations to then provide those social offerings. But as I often say to cities, much to their relief I might add, it’s not always the place’s job to come up with all the ideas to be successful mind readers.

Informal Social Offerings

This brings us to the informal social offerings, or the “choose your own adventure” social opportunities in your place. The place provides a menu of options and residents piece together the social experience they would like to experience, often with the help of way-finding tools around the city or on an app. This is a great strategy for cities to let the Free Market system loose in their place. Offer a variety of options and see which become the most popular and support that momentum, while still trying new things, events, and businesses.

Final Thoughts

Social offerings in a place must be a positive experience. Often places create social infrastructure without considering what the experience of the offering is like. If there’s no parking, or no easy way to get to it, if it’s not well-managed, or people aren’t pleasant (or worse are committing crimes and preying on others), or in other ways a complete nightmare, then people will be less likely to do it again. In fact, we found in Soul how people treat each other in those spaces is as important as having the offering in the first place. Of course, some of this is dictated by community culture. A social offering in Philly will feel different than a social offering in Charlotte. But we go with an expectation based on the place of what that experience will be like from a civility standpoint. And if it doesn’t meet that expectation, then the place overall takes a hit.

So it is really finding the perfect balance of social infrastructure (both formal and informal), and the civility and ease within those spaces that fit the place brand and narrative that create the perfect social offering.

And to love our place, we need it to fulfill that need if we are to thrive and grow our Place Match.

Place & Some Soul Searching

As you may (or may not) know, I was the lead consultant and national expert of the Knight Soul of the Community Project. This research was conducted 2008-2010.  Admittedly, that was a while ago. But when research forever changes the way people think about and understand place and gets international acclaim for being groundbreaking, it sticks around.

Almost 10 years later since the initiation of the project, there is at least one slide dedicated in every talk I give on it as a placemaking consultant and speaker.  And even when I dare to consider leaving it out of a talk, the client inevitable says, “Please include Soul in your talk.  We really want you to walk us through that.”  So I’m basically married to Soul—forever.

And that’s ok.  Because it was groundbreaking and a game-changer.  It has allowed me to make the place conversation more systemic – where everybody plays a role in optimizing place.  By connecting place attachment to hard economic outcomes, it allowed folks to understand how place quality really does matter in the overall success of places.  And it provides a very workable roadmap on how to get there, for every place.

Class is In Session

So over the next few blogs, I’m going to do a little Soul 101, by taking each of the place features that we found to be most related to the loved place and breaking it down a bit.  It wasn’t until after Soul concluded that I made the connection between the relationship between person and place being similar to the relationship between partners that I talk about in Place Match.  But it really should have dawned on me when the findings showed the things that most mattered to creating the loved place and the feelings those places inspired in their residents.


We found that “place attachment” when you break it down looks a lot like the love we have for a partner: we are optimistic about the future with the place; we think the place is the perfect one for us; we brag about and are proud of our place; we feel satisfied in the relationship.  And on top of that, the things that most drive those feelings within us is when we have fun there (social offerings), find it attractive (aesthetics), and we sense acceptance (openness).  And when we get those things from our partner place, we love that place and feel our futures are tied to it.  This enables us to give back to said place in ways that help sustain the place, and as a result, our relationship with it.

Do you see the parallels to partner match? We look for someone we have a good time with, that we find attractive, and who is accepting.  When we find that in someone, it creates feelings of love, loyalty, pride, and optimism that inspire us to support the partner and sustain the relationship.

“Place” Your Bets

Therefore, stay tuned for my next post when we take a deeper dive into social offerings.  You’ll see why this aspect was the no. 1 thing that mattered in being in love with a place in all 26 cities we studied, all three years of the study.

Any guesses upfront as to why that might be?

Until then, here’s a hint: we are only human.

And what makes a good social offering?

Here’s another hint: A little mind-reading, a little “choose your own adventure,” context, and kindness.

Oh the Places You’ll Go…In the Place Seasons!

Over the last few blog posts, I hope I have made you think a bit differently about your place plans in the finally arrived Place Season of Spring and shortly, Summer too. Whether you vacation to your Side Place, go on a Staycation, or go home to your First Place, my goal with this series was to get you to think more about your relationship with place in different contexts so you can be more aware and deliberate about how you spend your time and your resources (two very precious things). Also precious is the relationship you have and develop with your chosen place(s). For, like all other important relationships in our lives, it too affects every aspect and influences whether you will thrive or not.  So it is time well-spent.

Me, personally, I will be sticking close to home this Spring. But I’ll be immersed in place. First up, for me, on April 6th and 7th is acting in a Murder Mystery theater show.  In this show, I’m a mystic who channels and predicts by singing snippets of popular songs, if you can imagine.  Community theater “plays” an important role in creating place and it can truly be a powerful vehicle for shaping and reflecting community. It’s also a great way to “support local” in a unique way.  I encourage you to come out and see me in Holly Springs for the show if you’re in the Raleigh area, but get your tickets now, as we are almost sold out both nights.

Additionally, I’ve been selected to become a grave gardener in the Oakwood Cemetery. It’s not really as creepy as it sounds, I promise. This historic cemetery is the final resting place for many local and even national notables, with burial sites dating back to 1869 and continue up to present day. Some of the early monuments were constructed to be mini-gardens, especially for children’s burial sites. However, many of these sites are no longer planted because descendants have either moved away or have joined their family in the cemetery. So Oakwood Cemetery decided to allow local residents to apply to restore those mini-gardens. Grace (my daughter) and I were allowed to pick our own memorial site this past week and we picked a well-known one. Soon we will begin the process, with the cemetery-provided gardening and historical expertise, of designing, planting, and caring for this garden to honor the site.

See? There are all kinds of placemaking out there waiting for you to discover and explore. Always look for the unusual suspects in place!


The Woodlands, courtesy West Philly Local


Photo Courtesy, The Woodlands

In the coming weeks, I will also head back to my First Place of High Point for world-renowned Furniture Market for a little work and to enjoy the “market experience” for the first time in 30+ years. Just when you think you are out, they pull you back in!  As with many ultra-local place traditions with an established history and legacy, a lot of the activities at the High Point Furniture Market need to be documented and shared.

Lastly, I want to sneak peek some things coming soon from me:

  • I’ll soon be launching an interactive feature for you to better understand what relationship stage you’re currently in with your place!
  • Also, I’m working on a way to bring together people from all over the world in a virtual place, and I’ll have more details on that very soon.
  • If you haven’t already, sign-up for my e-newsletter, The City Doctor Journal, where exclusive updates and placemaking news are distributed.

Going Home: A Placemaker’s Story



“You can never go home again.”

Sure you can.  And a lot of folks do just that during Spring Break or some time during the Place Seasons of Spring and Summer.   I recently went back to my hometown in the High Point/Jamestown area for an engagement (something I don’t usually do).  I decided long ago as a placemaker and speaker, I would not work where I lived to keep work work and home home.  But 10 years of racking up frequent flier miles and passport stamps can wear on a girl, so I’ve relaxed my position on the whole “working in your own backyard.”

I’m all for it.

It’s interesting to return to a place of your youth.  Memories flood of every street, house, place and experience of being there.  Returning as a placemaker only compounds those memories.  You see things as they were, as they now are, and as they could be.

If you know anything about High Point, NC you know that it’s the Furniture Capital of the World.  When the local furniture industry hit hard times in the last decade, High Point hung onto that narrative despite the reality, like so many towns who weren’t sure who they were if they were no longer their industry.  Today, High Point is taking a good, hard look in the mirror and while some still shrug and say “we’re fine,” others in growing numbers say “it’s time for a makeover.”

High Point has a lot of strengths at its disposal. High Point University is the best example of institutional transformation I have ever seen.  Period.  President Dr. Qubein has achieved what many thought to be the impossible and even unimaginable for that university, from the physical campus, to the campus culture, to the operations. My dad is a chemistry graduate from when it was High Point College and when I brought him pictures of the campus today, my scientific father uttered “wow” with tears in his eyes. It truly is amazing.

High Point also has generational residents who have deep roots in the community and love it dearly—another great strength for a place to have.  These people have stayed married to High Point during its midlife crisis and bleak times.  Some family names are synonymous with High Point itself and these established families have given back to High Point and support the place in big and little ways.

So here comes Katie Loflin, High Point/Jamestown’s Junior Miss in 1989 back to High Point to address the city leaders (many I knew in high school as my classmates or the parents of my classmates) about  “placemaking” and her work as “The City Doctor.”  What in the world.  Going home can be difficult. Going home to publicly present yourself in an unfamiliar role to people “who knew you when” can be, well, weird:

“Didn’t you go with my son to the school dance?”

“Do you remember my daughter? Well, she’s a grandmother now!”

“I can never call you Dr. Loflin, you’ll always be little Katie to me!”

Never has taking command and credibility with a room before been more necessary, yet difficult.  And my message, I knew, wouldn’t go well with some.  Or, just as dangerous, some would respond by saying “we are already doing all of that.”

In some ways, going back to High Point was like seeing an ex.  You walked away from him on purpose, wished him well and were ready to be free of him and then you run into him 20 years and he asks “how do I look.”

So I told High Point what I thought. I talked about what makes a great place and let them decide how they look using those metrics as a guide.  I presented ideas to consider and potholes to avoid at this particular crossroads they face.

When I was done, there was a line of folks waiting to speak with me.  Some wanted to simply go down Memory Lane, but others handed me their card and said “we need you back here to get to work.” I appreciated both.  Some will always see me as Katie, but many others saw me as Dr. Loflin and a resource, despite the fact we may have attended prom together.

Going home again, placemaker or not, can be a surreal experience.  But it’s important to stay connected to your “First Place” if for nothing more than to understand yourself and who you are today.  Like our First Love, our First Place may have not stood the test of time, but it undoubtedly helped make us who we are today and—good or bad—influenced what we now seek in our Place Match.


Speaking in High Point at High Point University


With Dr. Nido Qubein, President of High Point University.


Hanging out with Galileo after my talk on HPU campus.


Post-talk libations with my host, the High Point Visitor and Convention Bureau. Tim Mabe, President. Melody Burnett, Director of Operations and Finance. Nancy Bowman, Director of Sales and Marketing.


Enjoying a Krispy Kreme doughnut post-talk. High Point had the second Krispy Kreme doughnut factory after the flagship factory in Winston-Salem.


High Point University campus


High Point University campus (cont’d)