Transformative placemaking amid COVID-19: Early stories from the field

Hanna Love at Brookings: “As COVID-19 leaves no place immune – threatening to destabilize urban communities, as well as rural and suburban areas with limited resources and infrastructure to weather the outbreak— the connectivity of people and places matters more than ever. Local responses to the pandemic are revealing that even amid unprecedented distancing, the economic, physical, social, and civic structures of connected communities are laying the groundwork for resilience and recovery.

In this moment of uncertainty, communities are increasingly seeking solutions from the community-based organizations, networks, and coalitions they know and trust in ordinary times. We at the Bass Center for Transformative Placemaking decided to look to there too, revisiting past entries from our Placemaking Postcards series to uncover how these organizations are responding to the COVID-19 crisis….

Across the country, hyperlocal governance organizations are being called upon to play an expanded role in supporting small businesses. This rang true for each organization we spoke with, as place governance entities in urban and rural areas alike modified their work to include compiling COVID-19 resources for small businesses, redirecting existing funding streams, creating new resources for relief, and offering promotions for customers to purchase local goods and services. Some are even stepping in to manufacture health materials for first responders.

For instance, Philadelphia’s University City District—which we highlighted last year for their efforts to measure inclusion in public spaces—is partnering with the University of Pennsylvania to launch a relief fund for local, independently owned retailers and restaurants. Simultaneously, they are working to bring revenue to local businesses through a matching gift cards program, and are sponsoring local restaurants to prepare meals for families with ill children at the Ronald McDonald House.

Rural place-based organizations are engaging in similar efforts. Appalshop, a Kentucky nonprofit we covered last month for their solar energy project, has raised more than $10,000 for local businesses, nonprofits, and first responders. The community development organization Downtown Wytheville in Virginia (whose rural entrepreneurship competition we wrote about this summer), is helping businesses apply for SBA disaster relief funding and running a “Support Local Safely” campaign to publicize open businesses. In Wyoming, Rawlins DDA/Main Street (whose entrepreneurship center we wrote about last fall), is engaging the public about business needs and offering similar promotions. While seemingly small in scale, all of these efforts are critical supports needed to keep businesses open and will lay the groundwork for recovery in the months to come.

Other place-based organizations are adapting their business models to respond to the crisis. In ordinary times, makerspaces and other innovation spaces provide places to collaborate, support entrepreneurship, and challenge economic and social divides. In the midst of COVID-19, makerspaces are abandoning those routines to support frontline respondersOpen Works—a Baltimore makerspace we covered for their efforts to build trust between residents, businesses, and institutions—has partnered with Innovation Works and We the Builders to launch a collaborative emergency response effort to manufacture face shields for health care workers….(More)”.