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.


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