The Rapidian

Placemaking as hospitality: How can we invite everyone to the table?

If placemaking is about embracing the collective humanity in each other, then the best places and the best placemaking are not just cool things to do in cool places, but building a better city for all of us.
Downtown Grand Rapids

Downtown Grand Rapids /Coutesy of Steve Depolo

Underwriting support from:

/Courtesy of Elizabeth Rogers Drouillard

Placemaking was not a word I knew growing up. Even though we weren't using words like placemaking and city-building yet, I was aware of the effects of place pretty early in my life. My family moved several times while I was a child, so I was “the new kid” more than once. As a teenager I dreamed of transplanting people I knew to a different place so that they could see what I see. I wanted to transplant my elementary friends from a small village in Ohio to New York City and I wanted to transplant the New York kids who kept asking me if I was from Idaho to the small village in Ohio.  

This experience showed me earlier than some that the neighborhoods, towns, regions, and states we live in have a great deal to do with how we think about and operate in the world. Where we live informs what we expect from the world more than we often realize. 

Now, I have lived with my family on the West Side for nine years. The West Side has a very strong identity and we have enjoyed being here. The old men at the hardware store had to know us for five or six years as neighbors before they would think of us as“real West Siders.” We did not previously know that pasczkis were such a big deal, or to keep a wary eye out for Eastsiders. (Just kidding.)

I am also a maker. I love art, craft and design and any combination of them.  I have taught art journaling classes and continue to do it myself. I love textile crafts like crochet, knitting, embroidery, fabric dyeing and sewing. I wrote my own craft blog for several years. I not only watched the burgeoning of the maker movement online, I participated in it. 

Making is very important to me.

Making can be defined creating something new or innovating something to be better than it was before. Place is our spot in the world. So placemaking, for me, is creating new places for each other or innovating the places we have to work better for us.

As an adult in Grand Rapids I’ve worked with people who are homeless. My understanding of place has been greatly informed by a friend who has lived a very transient life due to poverty and has sometimes been homeless. I’ve seen how hard it is to have a sense of belonging to a place when you can’t afford to live anywhere for more than a few months at a time. I’ve seen how hard it is to feel welcome in a city that’s your own when the social services that the rest of us grumble about being broken turn out to really be broken and unable to give you the help promised.  

I’ve written about living in a city of churches where the sight of a very small minority of people panhandling has us wanting to make laws to ban begging rather than making sure everyone has a place. I’ve seen friends open up about being profiled by the police here in Grand Rapids in the wake of the events in Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland and our own Detroit. 

All of these experiences- and an upbringing that told me to “love your neighbor as yourself” was number two on life’s list of priorities- led me to my love for placemaking today.    

Placemaking is about feeding our hunger to be in community and our desire to be connected. If it’s about remaking our places to serve our collective needs, then we’re really talking about being human together.

Placemaking is important because people are important. This sounds obvious to say, but we forget about each other a lot. That is why we work at placemaking.

Behind ideas of placemaking and community are ideas what it means to be human. Of what it means to work, play and live. Of what it means to just be.

If placemaking is about embracing the collective humanity in each other, then the best places and the best placemaking efforts are not just cool things to do in cool places, but building a better city for all of us.

Placemaking is really communal hospitality. We are all really in the hospitality industry whether we know it or not.

How do we make places where everyone is welcome? How do we make places where not only is everyone welcome, but everyone has a seat at the table? How do we welcome the common humanity in each other?

What does this kind of placemaking mean for Grand Rapids? We do food and beer and art and entrepreneurship pretty well. What can we do better?  

How can we create neighborhoods where people can not only afford to live there, but also afford to get to work and back in a reasonable time from their home?  How can we create neighborhoods that help those bouncing from apartment to apartment to afford better jobs so they can enjoy being in a place?  How can we create neighborhoods where women, children, people in the LGBT community, people of color and disabled people feel safe to walk and drive down the streets? 

These are some of the questions I’m interested in pursuing during my time as The Rapidian’s Place Matters Content Coordinator.

I’m very passionate about social justice issues, mostly because I see them as basic people issues. Place matters to everyone whether we think about it in terms of placemaking or not. Every community is filled with people who feel like they belong and people who feel like they don’t. I want us to ask lots of questions about these issues and talk together about how we can build a community where everyone feels like they belong and have a voice. I have a childish naivety, or maybe just some hope, that just because this is the way things are doesn’t mean that this is the way things have to be.

For placemaking, this is powerful. We shape and create our spaces. The more we can shape and create our shared spaces with everyone included as they always should have been, the better.

I’m so excited to be a part of Place Matters during such a period of growth in Grand Rapids’ history. I look forward to expanding the variety of voices we feature here. There are so many great neighborhoods in Grand Rapids full of so many people doing great things. I look forward to meeting more of you and engaging in community building together. We do a great job representing happenings downtown and in nearby neighborhoods. I look forward to building on that and adding more neighborhoods and more voices to Place Matters.

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nice photo