Creative Placemaking on the Brink

Will the NEA-driven effort to strengthen neighborhoods through the arts survive the decade?


By Amanda Kolson Hurley

A mural in the Station North Arts & Entertainment District, Baltimore, Maryland. Photograph by Wen Li.

The word “place” comes from the Latin platea, meaning broad street or avenue. Progressively, since ancient times, “place” has taken on a narrower sense in physical terms, from a semi-open area to a particular position or point in space. The result is a paradox: a place is a set of buildings, rooms, or natural features we can see and touch, yet openness or vacancy—a lack of physical presence—is at the root of its etymology. (The Spanish plaza and Italian piazza, both referring to the open yet bounded spaces of public squares, derive from the Latin platea, too.) 

So what makes a certain geography into a “place”? Is it what’s there or what isn’t there, but could be?

These questions are prompted by the rise of “creative placemaking,” a practice aimed at rejuvenating towns, cities, and neighborhoods across the United States through arts and culture. Spearheaded by officials at the federal National Endowment for the Arts—whose consultants coined the term in 2010—and fueled by a surge of philanthropic funding, creative placemaking has quickly become the strategy of choice in arts and community development circles. You can even earn a certificate in creative placemaking at a number of higher-ed institutions.  


Keep reading this piece, and many others, in the print issue! 


Issue 1
Publication Date: May 17


Amanda Kolson Hurley is a writer and editor in Washington, D.C., who specializes in architecture and urban issues. She is a contributing editor at Architect magazine and writes an architecture column for the Washington City Paper

Print OnlyFull Bleed