On the Softer Things


When life and work get busy, the intangible, softer ideas are the first to go. We know this and it proves itself over and over again. The details and the fine touches are the things that get cut when we start to feel rushed and overwhelmed. But this is exactly what placemaking is, the things that make everything run a little smoother, look a bit nicer, impact deeper.

We are so driven by numbers, data, and results in our culture. We know what we need, but we’re busy and we cut corners to get it. We get rushed making dinner, we throw it in a bowl, we forget the garnish, we skip making the table and decide to eat on the couch again. The food is there and it does but the trick, but the welcoming and inviting touches are lost. We get focused on the conclusion and what we have accomplished instead of the processes and final details. We work toward the destination.

In this work, it means we look forward to the day when our downtowns are thriving, with sidewalks full of people, builds full of local businesses, and streetscapes full of art. We work to make sure our coding is inclusive and our infrastructure is ready for foot traffic. We recruit businesses that can pop up quickly instead of courting startups that have our communities values in mind. We forget that downtown revitalization really centers on people. It revolves around people’s stories, their passions, their investment, their spending power, and their day-to-day lifestyle.

We want to make sure that we are putting the intentionality and details into our work. These details make the whole of the work we do worth it through the narrative of bringing people into the story. If we focus our work there, the businesses we recruit and the sidewalks, become that much more meaningful.

When we bring people into it, everything becomes a soft science. You study lifestyle and where sidewalks are needed, instead of cost per square foot.

This is where we get tripped up. Because people bring a certain headache to things and slow down every project. Initiatives drag when we involve people because they have feelings and opinions. Businesses slow when we include our community because they want to be remembered too. They have their own dreams and precautions for their town.

But the work is worth it.

This week, as my schedule fills and the Post-it notes on my desk clutter up my headspace with tasks that are yet to do, I am writing this to remind me, too. The work is worth it, but only if we include people into the equation. It’s an empty shell of a project if we are only working for the destination and the end game. We might just get to the end and realized that we have completed a whole project void of people and void of passion.