'Placemaking' Challenge To Begin In Mid-Michigan

Jul 20, 2012

There's a new ‘placemaking’ project in the Lansing area. It’s called the Lighter Quicker Cheaper Challenge, and it’s run by the Greater Lansing Association of Realtors and several other state and national organizations. WKAR’s Melissa Benmark spoke with Gil White, past president of the Michigan Association of Realtors, about placemaking, and the program.

GIL WHITE: It’s aimed at providing mini-grants to neighborhoods and communities that focus on improving the ‘people habitat’ portion of the public spaces in their areas.

MELISSA BENMARK: So give me an example of what a ‘habitat improvement’ would be for a neighborhood.

WHITE: Could be improved seating in public areas such as sidewalks or parks. Could be placing public art. It could be community gardens. It could be ‘playborhoods.’ There’s a very wide range of activities, but it’s primarily focused on improving the social opportunities in the public spaces of peoples’ daily lives.

BENMARK: The submissions are accepted between today and August 20th. What does a person have to do if they have an idea for some kind of improvement in their neighborhood?

WHITE: Well, there is a website that is www.MichiganHomeOwnersAlliance.com, which people can go to and download a registration form and get the program rules. And they can also find a Realtor sponsor. You need to have Realtor sponsor. We’re looking at how to involve the private sector in placemaking activities, and the Realtors are a natural place to start because a good chunk of our job description is selling people place.

BENMARK: So if a person had an idea but hadn’t recently been using the services of a Realtor, they would do what to get a Realtor sponsor?

WHITE: They can go to www.Lansing-RealEstate.com. There’s a member link there, and they can find a Realtor.

BENMARK: What are some of the examples of improvements that have been made in other places through this program?

WHITE: You know, I saw one recently that’s being tried over in England which focuses on adult playground next to children’s playground. And a great example was a bench that had pedals on it, a two-person bench that had pedals on it where you could sit and pedal and charge your electronic device while you watch your kids play in the park.

BENMARK: That’s an amazing idea.

WHITE: Oh, human ingenuity knows no bounds. You know, there’s public art, lots of public art and culture examples out there. Community gardens, you know, there’s the food themes. You know, could be a neighborhood barbecue. This is starting with very small increments instead of big grand schemes, with the hope that neighbors can get together and talk about ways that they could improve the daily life in the places that they gather, or the lack of opportunities to gather. And that they can, going through this process, build social capital that will lead to other activities and improvements.

BENMARK: So it’s not just about whatever you were to install in your community if you received the grant, but about the process of talking to folks about what they’d like to see.

WHITE: The people that can best define placemaking activities are those that, in their daily life, whether it’s live, work, or play, are utilizing public spaces. They’re the experts. They’re the ones that know what would make their lives better.

BENMARK: By mini-grants, do you have a ballpark idea of how much you’re talking about.

WHITE: You know, it could be anywhere from $50 on up to $2500. You know, I think typical grant amounts would probably range around 500, 1000, and if someone really had a super, super idea, on up to $2500. But we anticipate we’ll be able to do probably at least 15 grants in the month of August. We may be able to do a little bit more.  We’re continuing to look for additional money sources.

BENMARK: And what’s exactly your position in this whole challenge?

WHITE: Well, I’m kind of the funnel, the contact point. I have a really great advisory board to help us sort through the grant proposals. Very knowledgeable team and we’re thrilled to have their expertise and advice to guide this process.