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A downtown rendering of The Corner Spot in downtown Ashland, MA.

The Importance of Placemaking & Unlocking Community Capital

We know residents want to improve their communities to be the places and spaces that inspire innovation, build community, and support a better quality of life for all.

Editor's Note: This post was originally published on July 18, 2017. This post was updated on September 28, 2022.

In Europe and North America, millions of citizens are moving back to cities and denser urban areas. These interconnected networks have served as hubs of innovation for centuries, providing our societies with the best opportunities to succeed, leading to the creation of the world’s most innovative products, companies, and people. With the rapid growth and production of the automobile in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, some people fled the rapid industrializing cities for rural life.

Today, this mass exodus has been reversed as millions of the world’s citizens are rushing back into thriving cities for the “hustle and bustle” of urban life. The close connections cities provide nurtures the sharing of ideas, cultures, and innovations that has long driven our society forward. They force residents out of their “comfort zone” and into interactions with someone who may have forever been a stranger. But now, a new friend, a future wife, the inspiration or community partner on that next “big idea” that will change the world, can be just down the block.

Why placemaking?

The Executive Director of United Nations agency for human settlement, UN-HABITAT, which seeks to improve the quality of urbanization across the globe, said of the importance of placemaking; “What defines a character of a city is its public space, not its private space. What defines the value of the private assets of the space are not the assets by themselves but the common assets. The value of the public good affects the value of the private good. We need to show every day that public spaces are an asset to a city.”

Placemaking is the expressive vehicle by which we create places for people to interact. It’s the process by which communities create the next great public plaza for residents to share ideas and discuss politics, the next beautiful piece of public art for neighbors to admire together or the co-working space that will serve as the economic engine for an entire region by connecting the innovators of the future.

So, why aren’t more cities and towns engaging in these creative placemaking concepts?

  1. Lack of easily available funding
  2. Disconnect between the general public and a city to understand what’s possible
  3. Lack of civic engagement among neighborhood residents who may not feel empowered to make improvements to their own neighborhood

Who is enabled by placemaking through “crowdgranting?”

Patronicity is a civic and community based crowdfunding platform building more vibrant communities by creating engagement with the public to support projects meaningful to granting partners and area residents. Through Patronicity’s “crowdgranting” model, an easy application process and cost effective administration bring deeper engagement, broader press and public recognition, and goodwill for sustainable grant projects aimed directly at a partner’s mission of creating better communities.

This crowdgranting model is based around the idea that cities and towns have limited public funding available for projects beyond the absolutely necessary street repairs and public works projects. We put these severely limited resources to work by:

  1. Pooling large public and private financial resources and making them more readily accessible to cities, residents, and local groups to fund the projects and improvements THEY want to see in their community
  2. Building strong community support by requiring communities to raise at least half of their needed dollars through local businesses, residents, and organizations
  3. Building and fostering a stronger sense of community and ownership by allowing individual residents the opportunity to feel a direct connection to a community led effort to rebuild and grow tangible portions of their communities

How we got here & where we’re going

Our work started over three years ago in and around Detroit, Michigan, one of the cities hardest hit by the 2008 recession in the United States. In June 2014, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) partnered with Patronicity to harness the power of crowdfunding to activate public spaces and create community places. This was the first ever statewide crowdgranting partnership, which led to an outstanding year of community inspired projects for the MEDC.

By using the Patronicity crowdgranting model, the MEDC has seen a 97% funding success rate on proposed projects with over $6.2 million towards community funding that activated over 4.8 million square feet of public space. With added community engagement, they doubled their granting budget, received extended publicity from the funding campaigns, and created a more efficient grant administration model saving time and money.

Today we’re operating community development crowdgranting programs in three states: Michigan, Massachusetts, and Indiana. As we grow, we plan to explore harnessing large public grants and corporate dollars to rebuild and enhance communities across the globe through the power of a strong, engaged citizenry.

We know residents want to improve their communities to be the places and spaces that inspire innovation, that build community, and that allow AND support a better quality of life for all. They just need the opportunity and a method to do it. Crowdgranting is that opportunity, the next innovation in civic engagement and community development.