Placemaking Plays a Crucial Role in Economic Development

November 14, 2023 | Written by:

green railroad house

Placemaking is a vital driver of economic development, one of the tried-and-true principles of modern urban planning and community development. It encompasses the art and science of creating vibrant, inclusive, and engaging spaces that not only enhance the quality of life for residents but also attract businesses, visitors, and investment.

Placemaking goes beyond merely constructing buildings and infrastructure. It involves shaping spaces in a way that reflects the unique identity, culture, and history of a community. When a place possesses a distinct character, it can leverage this identity to attract tourists and residents, contributing to the local economy. Historic districts and cultural neighborhoods, culinary destinations and public art that embody and amplify this authentic identity can lead to increased tourism and spending.

Sanford’s rich history as a railroad town and Lee County’s heritage as a regional manufacturing center offer a robust and authentic array of opportunities for creative placemaking – iconic historic artifacts such as the Railroad House and Old A&W Engine Number 12; prominent traditional industries like North State Pottery Company and Cole’s Pottery; Sanford’s largely intact 1920’s central business district; and Lee County’s world-renowned brick industry, just to name a few.

Sanford residents’ investments in Depot Park and the Downtown Streetscape provide a textbook example of how to engage in strategic placemaking. Capitalizing on Sanford’s birth as a railroad town and the iconic architecture of our largely intact “Roaring Twenties” central business district, public investment and leadership has paved the way for significant private investment, revitalizing an entire historic downtown to a degree that neither private nor public investment could achieve on its own. Other examples could include Lee County’s San-Lee Park and Lee County Athletic Park, and Broadway’s North Carolina Veterans Memorial Complex. And the impact of these investments has economic development benefits far beyond tax base expansion and increased tourist traffic.

In today’s knowledge-based economy, attracting and retaining a talented workforce is crucial for our economic success. Placemaking contributes to this by creating environments that are not only aesthetically pleasing but also offer a high quality of life. People are drawn to places that provide opportunities for recreation, entertainment, and a strong sense of community. Vibrant neighborhoods and well-designed public spaces make cities more appealing to workers, leading to a more competitive labor force and economic growth.

Placemaking also fosters entrepreneurship and innovation by providing the necessary infrastructure and support for small businesses and startups. When an area is designed to encourage foot traffic and social interaction, local entrepreneurs can establish shops, cafes, and coworking spaces that create a dynamic ecosystem. These small businesses contribute to local job creation, tax revenue, and a unique sense of place that attracts both residents and visitors. Sanford’s downtown is a growing example of this type of work. Downtown Sanford is an important piece to our attraction puzzle for people and businesses.

If it is done right, Placemaking often leads to increased property values in the surrounding area. A well-designed public space, a thriving commercial district, or a lively arts scene can make nearby real estate more attractive. Higher property values benefit homeowners and generate more revenue for local governments through property taxes. Additionally, developers and investors are more likely to see opportunities in areas with strong placemaking, leading to further economic development.

Hometown pride or social cohesion as some call it, is an essential factor in economic development. Placemaking encourages social interaction, community engagement, and inclusivity. When people feel connected to their surroundings and have a sense of ownership over public spaces, they are more likely to invest in their communities. This can lead to grassroots initiatives, neighborhood improvement projects, and a collective commitment to the betterment of the area. Hometown pride often translates into a stronger local economy.

Placemaking practices frequently align with sustainability goals, which are becoming increasingly important in economic development. More and more companies that we deal with at the Sanford Area Growth Alliance ask about our community’s commitment to sustainability.  Sustainable design principles, such as walkability, public transportation, and green spaces, are commonly integrated into placemaking projects. This not only enhances the environmental footprint of a community but also attracts environmentally conscious residents and businesses. Sustainable practices can reduce operating costs, improve the local environment, and position a place as forward-thinking, attracting investment.

Placemaking is an important element of SAGA’s economic development strategy for Sanford, Broadway and Lee County, playing a crucial role in sustainable growth and increased prosperity. It creates vibrant, unique, and engaging environments that attract people, investment, and businesses. It fosters a sense of identity, attracts talent, stimulates entrepreneurship, increases property values, creates hometown pride, and promotes sustainability.

As Sanford, Lee County and Broadway continue to strive for economic growth and resilience, placemaking should be viewed as a vital tool in achieving these objectives. It is an investment that pays dividends, not only in economic terms but in the overall well-being and vibrancy of this wonderful place we call home.