Flint, MI—From Sept. 21-24, placemakers from across the country will meet in Flint to share ideas, explore the city, and learn from the community during a multi-day program called ‘Placemaking Week.’

But what exactly is placemaking?

“Maybe it’s best defined by Jane Jacobs, who wrote ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities,’” said Ryan Smolar from PlacemakingUS. “The city that has something for everybody was planned by everybody.” 

On a small scale, that could mean commissioning a local artist to paint a mural. On a larger scale, it can mean commuters joining together to designate a bike lane through a downtown area. Whatever form it takes, placemaking involves collaborating and building spaces and community with an area’s residents in mind.

Smolar said people who live in cities have largely been cut out of the process of shaping their cities over the years. Placemaking is a way for the community to take back that process, and placemakers are the people who help do it.

Kady Yellow is Flint’s director of placemaking, a role she took on in early 2020 through the Downtown Development Authority but which has since been transitioned to the Greater Flint Arts Council.

“My position is new, but the concept isn’t,” Yellow said. “Flint residents have always been placemaking.” 

Yellow cited Flint’s pioneering role in community education, the land bank system, and automobile design. She said she has long been inspired by the city’s “invention and innovation.” 

“I want to honor that innovation,” she said. “I’m here to remove barriers and pair people with places and programming.”

Yellow drove down to Indiana in June to bring Smolar and his team to Flint on their summer tour through 50+ placemaking cities across the United States.

Once in Flint, Yellow showed them around the city, highlighting murals, urban gardens, and upcoming activations like PorchFest, First Friday Sound and Vision, and Night Market.

Her tour ultimately convinced Smolar that Flint should be the next city to host PlacemakingUS’s ‘Placemaking Week’—a conference-like gathering for placemakers that began in Detroit in 2013 but has since taken place as far afield as Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Auckland, New Zealand through PlacemakingX, under which PlacemakingUS operates. 

Global map of ‘Placemaking Week’ locations, courtesy of PlacemakingUS.

“What we saw in Flint was this moment where the community has built such a muscle for ownership and for coming into its own,” said Smolar. He said PlacemakingUS wants to reflect that energy and “inspire it out to other places” by inviting the country’s leading placemakers to the city.

The week will feature workshops centered around themes such as “Downtown Management” for property and business owners, “Creative Placemaking” for creatives interested in how to impact the arts and culture scene of their city, and “Streets for People” for transportation and biking advocates. 

While the listed price for general admission is $250, there is also a “Pay What You Will” option. Both Yellow and Smolar noted that the point of the week is equity and inclusion, so they wanted to ensure the price for attendance was not a “stumbling block” to anyone’s participation.

Flint’s ‘Placemaking Week’ comes at a particularly validating time for the statewide placemaking movement, which has formalized through programs like Brownfield Tax Increment Financing and Public Spaces, Community Places under the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

The MEDC recently released a report which attempts to “quantify the placemaking effect” of its economic development investments from 2008-2019 in six other Michigan cities: Detroit, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Marquette, Alpena, and Adrian. 

The findings detail many positives for placemaking investment in those cities, as well as statewide metrics indicating that for every $1 MEDC invested there was a return of over three times that amount in private investment.

Flint’s upcoming ‘Placemaking Week’ will run from Sept 21-24 in multiple downtown venues. Tickets and more information are available through this link.

Kate is Flint Beat's associate editor. She joined the team as a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues....