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The Art of Placemaking Through Writing

placemaking Oct 15, 2023
The image depicts Sabrina Whittaker and a close friend who loves this topic, posing outside of Rue St. Marc in Jacksonville, Florida.

The image depicts Sabrina Whittaker and a close friend who loves chatting with her about this topic, posing outside of Rue St. Marc in Jacksonville, Florida.

Placemaking and writing may seem like two unrelated concepts at first glance. However, upon closer inspection, you'll find that they're actually deeply intertwined. For starters, both involve creating something meaningful, whether it's a compelling narrative or a vibrant community. Moreover, similar to how writing allows an individual to tell their story, placemaking is the story of how a community physically and socioeconomically manifests in geographical space. 

This article delves deeper into the relationship between writing and placemaking to uncover how they work together to create vibrant, engaging, and inclusive communities. We'll also discuss the role of place branding and writing workshops in this process to provide context for real-life examples of how these concepts have been successfully implemented.


The Power of Words in Placemaking


Words have the power to shape our perception of a place. They can evoke emotions, create images in our minds, and influence our attitudes and behaviors. Whether it's through signage, advertisements, or storytelling, the words we use to describe a place can have a profound impact on how people perceive and experience it. This is where place branding comes in.


Place Branding


Place branding is the process of creating a unique identity and image for a place. It involves using words, images, and experiences to shape the perception of a place in the minds of residents, visitors, and investors. Place branding is not just about creating a catchy slogan or logo; it's about telling a compelling story that captures the essence of a place.

Writing plays a crucial role in place branding. Through carefully crafted narratives, writers can highlight the unique features, history, and culture of a place. They can create a sense of identity and belonging, and evoke emotions that resonate with people. Writing workshops can be a valuable tool in this process.


Writing Workshops


Writing workshops provide a platform for people to explore and express their thoughts, ideas, and experiences through writing. Which is why they're such a powerful tool for community engagement and empowerment. By bringing people together to share their stories and perspectives, writing workshops can build connections and foster a sense of belonging.

In the context of placemaking, writing workshops are used to gather insights and stories from residents, shaping the narrative of a place. By involving the community in the process of place branding, it becomes more authentic and meaningful. More importantly, however, writing workshops help residents develop a deeper connection with their surroundings and take pride in their community.

We offer a writing workshop that uses journaling to explore limiting beliefs and locally available opportunities tailored to writers and creative professionals. The training covers topics like goal-setting, task organization, time management, and project management tools, like our favorite, Asana. It's called Project Management for Writers, and is available for you to schedule your session today.

Examples of Writing and Placemaking in Action


To better understand the connection between writing and placemaking, let's look at some real-life examples.


The Windy City: Chicago, Illinois


"The Chicago Cultural Center is a landmark structure located in the heart of downtown Chicago. It stands as a beacon of arts, culture, and community engagement, and it has been a pivotal space for fostering understanding and appreciation of diverse cultures. Writing has been instrumental in the evolution and impact of the Chicago Cultural Center.

Prior to its rebirth as a cultural hub, the building was the city's central library, a place where stories and knowledge were housed. As the city grew and the need for space evolved, there was talk of potentially demolishing the historic structure. However, through the power of words, the Chicago Cultural Center was reenvisioned not just as a building, but as a living testament to the city's rich tapestry of art, music, dance, and more. Advocates, including local writers and artists, used storytelling and public outreach to convey the importance of this space to Chicago's cultural legacy. They hosted events, readings, and discussions that showcased the potential of the space, and highlighted the memories and experiences of those who had been touched by it. These narratives helped to cement the Cultural Center's place in the heart of Chicago, transforming it into a dynamic space that celebrates the past, present, and future of the city's vibrant communities."


Neighborhoods in Jacksonville, Florida


The Ritz Theatre and Museum, located in the historic LaVilla neighborhood of downtown Jacksonville, Florida, stands as a testament to the city's rich African-American cultural heritage. Today, it's a vibrant center for arts and education, drawing residents and tourists alike. Written word played a pivotal role in reviving and preserving the legacy of this iconic landmark.

Before its restoration, the Ritz Theatre had seen better days. Once a bustling hub for music, film, and community events, it had fallen into disrepair as the neighborhood around it changed. However, through the power of storytelling, there was a collective call to rejuvenate and honor the theatre's historic significance. Spearheaded by local writers, historians, and community leaders, efforts were made to document and share the stories of LaVilla and its significance to Jacksonville's Black community. The City of Jacksonville and passionate advocates formed a coalition to fund and oversee the theatre's restoration.

Workshops and community events were organized, where elders recounted tales of the Harlem of the South, as LaVilla was once known. These stories, echoing the rhythms of jazz, blues, and vibrant urban life, breathed new life into the Ritz's legacy. Today, these narratives are at the heart of the Ritz Theatre and Museum, ensuring that its history is not just remembered, but celebrated."

I'm from a nearby area of Jacksonville called "OutEast," and I encourage you to read this article from Jaxon Mag titled Eastside deserves national historic designation to learn more about my beloved home. 


The Power of Community Engagement


Although writing is often thought to be a solitary activity, community engagement is a crucial aspect of placemaking. When writing about placemaking, it's essential you involve your community in the process to present an authentic and meaningful representation of your home. So, writing and the discussion of change must transition from our journals to settings that promote discourse in groups.

For example, writing workshops are a powerful tool for community engagement, providing a platform for residents to share their stories and perspectives. These stories are then used to shape the narrative of a place, creating a sense of identity and belonging. Years later, when someone figuring out who they are needs help, they'll study the history made through our placemaking efforts.

In the context of placemaking, community engagement can help to ensure that the needs and desires of the community are taken into account. This leads to the creation of spaces that are not only aesthetically pleasing but also functional, inclusive, and promotional of good health. Finally, community engagement fosters a sense of ownership and pride in the communities we serve.


The Role of Storytelling in Placemaking 


Storytelling is intrinsically linked to shaping and understanding our surroundings. In the United States, when we recount the Battle of Gettysburg and consider the land on which it occurred, we understand that it's been transformed from mere soil to a historical landmark. The winding streets of Paris are more than just pathways; they become vibrant backdrops to tales of love, revolution, and art when writers like Hemingway and Hugo bring them to life in their works. Historical accounts and artistic depictions offer a deeper connection to geographical spaces, allowing us to not just see but feel the essence of a place.

So, this is the crux of the relationship between writing and placemaking. At the core of each, they seek to carve out spaces – one in the physical world and the other in the realm of understanding. Storytelling, in all its forms, is the heart that pumps life into these spaces. It's a bridge linking the past to the present, and the local to the global. With stories, places don't just exist; they live, breathe, and evolve. When we delve deeper, the intricate dance between storytelling through writing and placemaking unfurls in an uncountable and unmeasurable number of ways. 


To summarize this relationship, we'll cover the following themes:


  • Storytelling and Identity: How writing paints a vivid picture of places, enshrining their unique spirit.
  • Urban Journalism: Chronicling the heartbeat of cities.
  • Community Engagement: Making everyone a part of the narrative.
  • Documentation and Archives: Preserving stories for future generations.
  • Educational Resources: Teaching through tales of places.
  • Poetry and Public Art: Imprinting stories on the very canvas of cities.
  • Cultural Preservation: Safeguarding the soul of places through their tales.


Storytelling and Identity

Writing captures the unique histories and identities of places, which serves to build a shared understanding of and connection to those spaces. Through storytelling, whether it's oral history, narrative journalism, or even fiction, writing lends a voice to places. This is especially relevant in the case of historically marginalized communities whose stories may not have been otherwise told.


Urban Journalism

Articles, editorials, and investigative pieces can bring attention to neglected public spaces, instigate change, or praise successful placemaking initiatives. Good journalism can act as a catalyst for community involvement, activism, and, ultimately, lasting change.


Community Engagement

Written surveys, blog posts, and social media updates serve as tools to gauge public opinion and involve the community in placemaking decisions. Community-based storytelling is shared through local newsletters, websites, and other mediums helping residents feel a stronger connection to their environment.


Documentation and Archives

Writing serves as a record for placemaking efforts. This can be particularly important for evaluating the success of certain initiatives, securing future funding, or serving as a model for similar projects in other communities.


Educational Resources

Well-crafted educational materials, such as how-to guides, can provide communities with the knowledge and inspiration they need to undertake placemaking projects. This material can empower local residents to make meaningful changes to their surroundings.


Poetry and Public Art

Written words are not just confined to the page; they also form part of the visual and interactive landscape. Poetry or inspiring quotes can then be incorporated into the physical aspects of space—etched into park benches, displayed on public transit, or painted on walls—thus sparking thoughtful conversation, and enriching public spaces.


Cultural Preservation

In many places, writing is in the form of inscriptions, historical markers, and informative plaques to preserve the cultural heritage of a space. These markers also help to communicate the importance of habit and heritage to newcomers or younger generations, creating a layer of shared history and meaning.

So, in all these ways and more, writing contributes to placemaking by giving life to public spaces to influence how they are perceived, experienced, and appreciated. The preservation of writing helps build community, fosters civic engagement, and creates spaces that are truly reflective of the people who use them.




As you've read, writing and placemaking are deeply connected. Through the power of words, we shape the perception of a place, create a sense of identity and belonging, and foster community engagement. Place branding and writing workshops are valuable tools in this process, allowing us to gather insights and stories from residents because they involve them in the narrative of a place through process.

As we have seen from the examples of Chicago and OutEast, writing can transform abandoned spaces into vibrant public places and shape the identity of a city. By recognizing the connection between writing and placemaking, we're empowered to harness words and create vibrant and engaging communities. When used effectively, the power of words transforms spaces, shapes perception, and creates a sense of belonging. It is an invaluable tool thatwhen wielded with care and intentioncreates a lasting impact. Legacy.