“What attracts people to spaces are other people,” noted Ethan Kent, Vice President, Project for Public Spaces, and a panelist at “Rethinking Westchester: A Blueprint for Smart Growth,” a game-changing conference on June 21, organized by the WCA's BLUEPRINT for Westchester. “The way we look at streets and public spaces should be as an economic development opportunity...”
Placemaking, which his organization has trumpeted over the years, is a proven approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces that has successfully transformed over 2500 communities in all 50 U.S. states and 40 countries. Placemaking, is a key component of the “Work. Live. Play.” concept that the BLUEPRINT for Westchester, WCA’s dynamic economic initiative, has embraced.
“Now that dozens of entrepreneurial ventures are sprouting and there is significant growth in the small and mid-size business sectors, it is time for Westchester’s planners to give more thought to our future needs, and how and where Gen Y wants to work, live, and play,” said Marissa Brett, executive director of Economic Development at the Westchester County Association. “When businesses choose where to locate or relocate their operations, a critical factor is the local talent pool.”
This means reasonably-priced housing and neighborhoods with nightlife and proximity to jobs. What it also means is repurposing and rezoning, according to panelist Thomas Madden, Commissioner of the Town of Greenburgh’s Department of Community Development.
“Zoning laws throughout Westchester will have to be changed to support the sort of public spaces we are talking about here today,” said Madden. The role of government is to encourage communities to build their future."
Panelists emphasized repeatedly that plazas, trails, sidewalks, and art in public spaces, make for attractive communities. Public art is a key component of creating and maintaining public spaces, according to panelist Janet Langsam, CEO of ArtsWestchester.
“Public art is a people-gatherer,” she said and urged planners to make public art “part of the planning for placemaking, rather than asking [artists] to create what I call ‘plop art,’ sculpture that’s just plopped down in a public space without thought to the surroundings.”
Added Kent: “We need to have partnership to build participation. Everyone in the community should participate in planning the public realm. “We need to move from a project-driven approach in planning to a place-driven approach, capitalizing on a local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential."
“If you plan for cars and traffic, you get more cars and traffic. If you plan for development, you get development. If you plan for people and places, you get more people and places.”