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Tag: Placemaking

CMSC Webinar: How to Start a Cultural District in Your Town

CMSC Webinar

How to Start a Cultural District in Your Town

Webinar Summary

Join Connecticut Main Street Center, in partnership with the Connecticut Office of the Arts, the Cultural Alliance of Western Connecticut, the Southeastern Connecticut Cultural Coalition, and the Northwest Connecticut Arts Council, as we discuss how to start a cultural district with people who’ve already done it!

In this virtual roundtable, we discuss the value of establishing a cultural district, the basics of the program, as well as common challenges and how to overcome them.

Presentation Highlights


  • What’s a Cultural District?

    A Cultural District is a specific area of a city or town identified by the municipality that has a number of cultural facilities, activities and/or assets–both for profit and nonprofit. It is a walkable, compact area that is easy for visitors to recognize. It is a center of cultural activities –artistic and economic. It is a place in your city/town where community members congregate, and visitors may enjoy those places that make a community special. 

  • Discussion Overview

    • In this webinar, we interview three communities – Ridgefield, New London and Torrington – that started a Cultural District.
    • The discussion is led by the leaders of three of Connecticut’s Designated Regional Service Organizations (DRSO’s), who are available to help communities learn how to form their own cultural districts. 
    • Joined by Liz Shapiro, Director of the Office of the Arts, this discussion highlights the lived experience of these communities in going through the process, the things they’d do differently, and the ways the Cultural District has energized community collaboration.

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CMSC Webinar: Reimagining Communal Spaces to be More Community-Friendly

CMSC Webinar

Reimagining Communal Spaces to be More Community Friendly

Webinar Summary

Communal spaces play a vital role in every municipality. They bring residents together, provide recreation, boost the economy and even fuel healthier lifestyles. 

In this webinar, Celeste Frye, co-founder & CEO of Public Works Partners, LLC, shares strategies for designing communal spaces that proactively and thoughtfully meet the needs of the entire community. 


Presentation Highlights

  • What is a Communal Space?

    The question of where people congregate in your town should be approached sensitively and take into consideration all the different people who live in your community. This is important because it has repercussions regarding class, race, ethnic backgrounds and ability to access spaces (ability, age, etc.) When we’re designing communal places, they need to be truly welcoming inclusiveness of all community members.

    What is a Communal Space?

    • The purpose of a communal space is to be activated and invite people in to gather and connect. From an urban planning perspective, activating a place means the use of a public space to advance community building and social interaction, using strategies to proactively bring people into a space. This can be a simple as free wi-fi or tables and chairs.
    • It’s important to acknowledge that you may have different spaces for different groups within your town and that some spaces may feel hostile to different groups, for instance to those that are unhoused (homeless) or disabled.
  • Benefits of Communal Spaces

    There are 3 main benefits of communal spaces:

    • Build social networks by encouraging people to grow their personal networks
      • Communal spaces provide infrastructure and a setting for people to gather and share experiences, and to safely interact with others who they may not see or interact with otherwise – for instance, those of differing gender identities or religious affiliation.
    • Spur economic growth both in the space and in nearby neighborhoods
      • Attracting people to a space can encourage patronage of local businesses through design and use improvements.
      • Brick and mortar stores, façade improvements, and venues for food trucks can all help small businesses thrive.
      • Communal spaces can also draw people to different neighborhoods
      • Adaptive reuse of historic buildings can give them uses that match the current residents and their needs, for instance converting old schools into community or recreational centers.
    • Improve health and wellbeing through facilitating physical and social activity
      • Can include things like parks with walking trails or game spaces, but also downtowns with walkable streets.
      • Can use design elements that encourage people to move from space to space which can improve health and wellbeing, especially in places that have historically lacked them. Examples include wide sidewalks, protected bike lanes, public transit access
      • Examples of Communal Spaces
        • Parks – Green spaces that are visually attractive and allow for physical and social interactions
        • Markets – Vacant lots can be used for pop up markets or food trucks
        • Downtowns – in addition to commercial areas, they also house government buildings, libraries and social events like parades
  • How to Be Truly Community-Friendly

    To create places that are welcoming to the entire community, it’s imperative to incorporate key elements:

    • Accessibility – go above and beyond ADA requirements
      • The community’s ADA needs should be discussed at the beginning stages of planning, not at the end
      • ADA mostly focuses on physical accessibility but we should broaden our understanding of ADA or “universal” design to include mental cognitive ability and life cycle (i.e. kids, pregnant women or older people). For example, signage should be clear and easy to understand. Use multi-sensory signals, such as auditory signals at crosswalks. Haptic, or touch-based signals, (such as braille), help as well.
      • It’s also important to make sure access is continuous. Common obstacles are curb cuts that don’t connect to cross walks or protected bike lanes that end suddenly.
      • Incorporating accessibility elements creates an equitable opportunity for people to participate in these spaces.
    • Transportation
      • Active transportation gives people more ways to traverse a space. Think of protected bike lanes (and bike parking), protected bike lanes and wide sidewalks in addition to lanes for cars. Bollards and islands can be used to help separate lanes.
    • Green space
      • A community friendly space incorporates the natural environment for recreation, play and learning. Thoughtfully plan for and maximize green space – think about things like where you’ll you put it. What will it be like in real life? For instance, will trees work in the space or are planters better?
    • Safety & Comfort
      • This makes the place approachable and can include things like awnings over shops to provide shelter from the rain, trees for shade, human-scaled lighting, slower speed limits, and permanent and movable street seating.
  • Making It Happen

    • Begin by doing robust research
      • How do people use the space? How do they want to access it? What’s the history of the neighborhood? Is it changing? What are the community demographics? Why is the project happening here, now?
      • Talk to the community and observe how the space is currently used.
    • Make Your Plan
      • Once you have the research you can create your plan, laying out your goals and strategies. Include key milestones and successes, timeline, communication protocols, incorporate the community into the implementation, etc.
    • Implement Your Plan
      • Utilize connections made with businesses and community members to create some shared decision-making frameworks.
      • Bring the larger community in and get them excited about the project. While you’ll likely engage contractors for big changes, you might be able incorporate the community by doing site tours or things like group planting projects, ribbon cuttings, etc.
      • Clear communication will also help mitigate issues like construction noise or access. It’ll let you get feedback so you can respond to issues in a timely manner. Downtown managers are often key liaisons between the different stakeholders.
    • Manage Your Space
      • Discuss funding for maintenance and who will manage the space, have strategies to evaluate the space such as who’s using it at what time of day, then you can make changes as necessary.
    • Maintain Your Space
      • Weather and use can impact your space. What’s needed for maintenance on a seasonal basis? After a year or five years?
      • Report out to the community on your successes and efforts.
  • Real Life Examples

    • Syracuse Downtown Revitalization Initiative – Public Works was engaged to support the creation of a final strategic investment plan that’s directing $10m worth of state funding to select real estate and public infrastructure investments.
      • In this project they were reconnecting two different parts of the downtown to work against the affects of population decline and the legacy of urban renewal.
      • They facilitated a series of in person and virtual charrettes focused on things the community already said was important to them – pedestrian friendly streets, trees and green infrastructure, making streetscape and building improvements and preserving the cultural heritage of this neighborhood.
        • Their recommendations included improving sidewalks and streetscapes, adding lighting and wayfinding to encourage people to traverse the area, redeveloping certain properties to create commercial and pedestrian activity, and supporting outdoor vendor spaces.
      • Lessons learned
        • Important to reach out to people in a variety of way to meet people where they are.
        • Build on what’s already working and let community members easily identify what they already like, in this case a popular community center
        • Choose and incorporate elements that fit with the community.
    • NYC Streets Plan – Public Works led the NYC Streets Plan (NSP) Public Engagement Process (PEP) to support a NSP that would include the safety of all street users, the use of multi-modal mass transit, the reduction of vehicle emissions, and access for individuals with disabilities.
      • In many communities the most publicly owned land is actually the streets, so it’s beneficial to think how they can be utilized by all users, not just cars.
      • This purpose of this program was primarily to improve the safety of non-car users.
        • Had a online engagement platform, did phone surveys targeted to non-English speakers and people who traditionally didn’t participate, which allowed for a deeper reach into the community.
      • Lessons Learned
        • Defined the accessibility need for the engagement process and the plan up front
        • Provided flexibility around the times people could engage
        • Did a mix of small group engagement so everyone felt comfortable participating

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About Celeste Frye

Co-Founder and CEO, Public Works Partners

An AICP-certified planner, Celeste Frye co-founded Public Works Partners more than a decade ago out of a passion to help mission-driven organizations increase their positive impact on local communities. She is a known expert in designing and implementing multi-stakeholder initiatives, building strong connections across the nonprofit, government and private sectors. Celeste is a member of the Regional Plan Association’s Connecticut Committee and the Coro New York Leadership Center’s Alumni Advisory Board. She was recognized with City & State’s 2021 Community Engagement Power 50 and Crain’s New York’s 2021 Notable Women Business Owners. Celeste received a M.S. in Regional Planning from Cornell University and a B.A. in International Studies & French from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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CMSC Webinar Recap: Using Public Art for a More Vibrant & Welcoming Community

CMSC Webinar

Using Public Art for a More Vibrant & Welcoming Community

Webinar Summary

When public art is supported and implemented thoughtfully and strategically, it adds tremendous cultural, aesthetic, and economic value to a community by facilitating a sense of place and community pride. It encourages civic engagement and builds social capital through raising public awareness of important local issues and connecting residents to their neighbors and their shared history.

In this webinar, our panel from around the country and Connecticut speaks to innovative public art programs that provide economic impact and create more inclusive communities.

Presentation Highlights


  • The Importance of Public Art & Support – Connecticut Office of the Arts

    The arts provide meaning to our lives:

    • 69% of the population believe the arts “lift me up beyond everyday experiences”
    • 73% feel the arts give them “pure pleasure to experience and participate in”
    • 81% say the arts are a “positive experience in a troubled world”

    Source Americans for the Arts

    Top 5 types of arts projects people favor for government funding:

    1. To provide art in parks, downtown areas, and other public places (72%)
    2. For returning military personnel, to aid in their transition to civilian life (70%)
    3. To provide arts and culture programs for the elderly (70%)
    4. To beautify blighted or abandoned areas (69%)
    5. To promote pro-social behavior with at-risk youth (69%)

    Source Americans for the Arts

    Quality of life matters:

    • 99% of the CEOs who were questioned stated that the availability of cultural activities in an area is an important consideration in choosing a new location Source Project for Public Spaces

    CT Office of the Arts provides programming to help communities implement meaningful art projects:

    • AIR Collaborative “is a field-tested and iterative, three-step pathway designed to build innovation and economic sustainability” through facilitated community meetings.

    For more information contact: Tamara Dimitri – tamara.dimitri@ct.gov or visit ct.gov/arts

  • Murals: Examples of Public Art – The Rise Up Group, Inc

    RiseUP is a Connecticut-based non-profit that provides localized, end-to-end placemaking and public art management. Services include:

    • Project management
    • Fundraising strategy (can serve as a fiscal sponsor)
    • Government relations
    • Community engagement
    • Execution strategy and advising
    • Connector/facilitator
    • Artistic management
    • Artist database

    The organization focuses on exclusively using local artists for community projects; 60% of their artists are people of color.

    Learn more and get in touch at theriseupgroup.org.

  • Light Art – Portland Winter Light Festival

    Portland Winter Light Festival is a family-friendly, city-wide temporary light art placemaking event that takes place in February based in Portland, Oregon.

    The festival started in 2016 with no city funding and had 30,000 visitors to its latest event in 2022 bringing in 189,000 attendees and generated $3.7m in estimated economic impact. The city now provides some funding, but the majority of funders are from private donors and sponsors.

    Of note:

    • Anchor sites – The festival has multiple dynamic anchor sites and has smaller installations throughout the city in smaller installations. The anchor sites have the power to bring people to areas that have gained a negative perception and reset their understanding of a place. For example, downtown Portland’s reputation was tarnished during COVID and protests, but the festival brought people back downtown to reestablish the narrative.
    • Involving businesses – The festival attracts small businesses, parking lots, and hotels to be a host site for pop-up installations. There is an application process, but the festival also reaches out to business. “We try to tailor participation to the interest of the industry. For example, architecture firms participate by having their staff create art installations that highlight the creativity of their firm. Hotel Partners offer lobby spaces and a small sponsorship in exchange for recognition on a list of participating hotels in the hopes that will lead to room rentals. We have a call for venue participants (businesses of any kind) who want to host artwork in their windows, and that is really tied to revenue generation and community engagement. Over time, our hope is to help build a network of creatives and businesses that can work together to place artwork in various venues so that they are pulling creatives from their own neighborhoods to show art in their spaces and creating clusters of activation. I do think private businesses have an important role to play in building the artistic landscape of our cities, and it seems that more businesses are seeing the intrinsic value of participating.” – Alisha Sullivan, Executive Director in follow-up email exchange
    • Survey teams – The festival deploys survey teams throughout the event to get feedback and to count attendees. This data is critical to demonstrate value to stakeholders and calculate economic impact.

    For more information, visit www.pdxwlf.com or reach out to Alisha Sullivan at director@pdxwlf.com

  • Music & Night-Time Economy – Sound Diplomacy

    Big Ideas:

    • “A chamber of culture is as important as a Chamber of Commerce and cultural infrastructure plans are key.” For further explanation from a follow-up email with Kate Durio, “Chambers of Culture look at culture as more than just art for art’s sake and recognize the economic and tourism value and quality of life afforded by culture. Seeing artists and cultural businesses as entrepreneurs and businesses instead of ‘starving artists’ requires a culture shift backed by policy makers, tourism offices, business developers and even city planners. This is how it goes beyond just an art’s council, for instance. Sometimes starting small is enough to get going, by establishing regular meetings of tourism, economic development, local government, arts agencies, etc. With a focused agenda, shared objectives and clear roles for all involved, a community can accomplish a lot if participants all commit.”
    • Invest in people already present” – Exemplified in Tulsa, Oklahoma they focused on supported their local artists in small, impactful ways instead of investing in large public projects like an amphitheater.
    • Create policy that supports musicians – Sound Diplomacy provides a Top 10 list of key policies that can support musicians, night-time economy, and other creatives. Some policies are a large undertaking and others are smaller, incremental steps with a powerful impact. For example, creating busking policies that encourage street performers, loading zones for musicians so they can easily set up at their night venue, and having more than one person in charge of special permitting.

    Free Resources:

    Other Reading:

    For more information, visit www.sounddiplomacy.com or reach out to Kate Durio at Kate@SoundDiplomacy.com.


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CSMC Webinar: How to Fill Vacant Storefronts

CMSC Webinar

How to Fill Vacant Storefronts

Webinar Summary

Every Main Street will face vacancies from time to time, and COVID only exacerbated this challenge across Connecticut and the country. Not only are persistent vacancies detrimental to creating and sustaining a vibrant downtown, but they also have a negative economic impact on the community. In this webinar, our presenter Ilana Preuss – international speaker, and fierce advocate for creating great places and small-scale manufacturing – shares:

  • Innovative approaches to filling vacant storefronts from around the country
  • Programmatic ideas to collaborate with property owners
  • Long-term solutions to keep storefronts full by supporting local small business ecosystems

Presentation Highlights

  • 5 Reasons why vacant storefronts exist

    1. Cost of renovation: The cost to renovate a vacant space is too high and the market does not support a lease rate that supports the cost of renovation.
    2. Tax benefits: Property owners gain a tax benefit on the loss of not leasing space.
    3. Devalue underwriting: For new, big development projects, the owner doesn’t want to lower the price of the storefronts to not devalue the whole project if they are looking to sell or refinance at some point.
    4. Guaranteed lease: This is common to see in malls or big box strip centers, where a major anchor tenant has a guaranteed lease for an extended period of time so no one else can come into the space.
    5. Mismatch of real estate sizes and small business needs: A lot of communities have a lot of storefronts that are 2,000-10,000 square feet when a lot of small businesses need 500-1,000 square feet.
  • Context & national trends that are influencing our downtowns:

    • Vacant storefronts reduce the value of nearby property by 20% or more. They reduce traffic to these areas and leads to a feeling of isolation in the community. The impact of vacancies are multi-fold and in many cases create a downward spiral in communities.
    • During COVID, a lot of businesses pivoted, some survived, and many did not.
    • Over 1 million COVID deaths impacted our householders, economy, and individuals. The psychological impact of the pandemic cannot be ignored.
    • A lot of people started businesses in recent years without a lot of business experience. They started small business because they lost their jobs or decided to pursue their passion or a different quality of life.
    • People are demanding higher wages and pay.
    • Before the pandemic we saw demographic shifts such as decline in working age population and growing income and wealth inequality – which have only been exacerbated during COVID.
    • A lot of major chains shrunk their footprint and are focusing on prime locations.
  • Strategies to fill vacant storefronts

    1. Support small business

    Specifically focus on small-scale manufacturing (businesses that make consumer products). These businesses have opportunities for different sources of revenue making them more resilient – retail, wholesale, online, pop-ups, etc. They are a draw for foot traffic in your downtown and bring people together.

    • Provide financing to support these businesses
      • Provide incubators, accelerators, or other support programs to help them gain business skills and/or how they can move into storefronts particularly when paired with market opportunities and financing
      • Examples of training programs for getting home-based businesses into storefronts: Baltimore Home Run Accelerator, 37 Oaks

    2. Commercial Vacancy Tax Ordinance

    3. Tax Increment Finance (TIF) or other funding vehicle with matching grants

    4. Financing for local business to buy real estate

    • Keep real estate ownership local by providing support and financing options for local small business owners who have the interest and capacity to purchase property.
    • Examples: Pittsburgh

    5.Commercial Land Trust


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About Ilana Preuss

Ilana Preuss is the Founder and CEO of Recast City and the author of the new book “Recast Your City: How to Save Your Downtown with Small-Scale Manufacturing.”

Preuss’ passion for great places grew out of her experience working with small and large cities all over the country when she led the technical assistance program at the U.S. EPA Smart Growth Program, and as the Vice President & Chief of Staff at Smart Growth America. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Urban and Regional Studies from Cornell University and a Masters of City Planning from the University of Maryland.

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CMSC Webinar – Using Public Art for a More Vibrant and Welcoming Community

When public art is supported and implemented thoughtfully and strategically, it adds tremendous cultural, aesthetic, and economic value to a community.

It facilitates a sense of place and community pride. It can encourage civic engagement and build social capital through raising public awareness of important local issues and connecting residents to their neighbors and their shared history.

In this webinar, you’ll be inspired to think differently about and incorporate public art in your communities. Our panel from around the country and Connecticut will speak to innovative public art programs that provide economic impact and create more inclusive communities.

  • Learn about Connecticut’s Office of the Arts new public art programs and how to take advantage
  • Hear how a Connecticut placemaking organization employs diverse artists to beautify, bring positivity, and spark economic vitality in neighborhoods through public art
  • Learn how a winter light festival brings in 189,000 visitors in the dead of winter and contributes $3.7m in economic impact while activating typically overlooked neighborhoods
  • Hear how communities are using music to drive economic development and ordinances you can implement to support a music economy

Meet the Panelists

 This event is free, but registration is required

This event is approved for 1 credit for certified planners
With thanks to our AICP Certification Maintenance Provider FHI Studio.

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