Six U.S. cities to receive new public spaces to strengthen community ties;  Balboa Park in San Diego, Plaza at Pratt & Light in Baltimore open new public spaces today 

Southwest Airlines  grew its multi-year commitment to Placemaking and local community development by announcing in April that six cities across the U.S. will receive Heart of the Community grants to reimagine and activate important, underutilized local public spaces.

In conjunction with Earth Day, Southwest Airlines Employees will complete environmentally focused volunteer projects in many of the Heart of the Community cities. Placemaking, an emerging movement with environmentalist roots, positions public spaces as an engine for community development, serving as a catalyst for building sustainable, healthy, inclusive, and economically viable neighborhoods.

Southwest’s lead partner, Project for Public Spaces (PPS), has refined the participatory Placemaking process for more than 40 years. Now in the second official year of the program, two former Heart of the Community grant recipients open spaces today in Baltimore and San Diego and ongoing projects in Chicago and Houston will open later this year. Three transformative pilot projects in Detroit, Providence, and San Antonio have proven the connecting and catalytic power of Placemaking.  

Throughout 2015, the following six public spaces will be developed, programmed, and activated as part of the Southwest program:

  • Albuquerque, New Mexico: Civic Plaza  
  • Ft. Myers, Florida: Cornog Plaza at the Lee County Library  
  • Jacksonville, Florida: Hemming Park 
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin: 4MKE: 4th Street and Wisconsin Avenue  
  • Portland, Maine: Congress Square Park  
  • St. Louis, Missouri: Strauss Park 

“Cities are more than destinations—they are places of human connections and livelihood,” said Gary Kelly, Chairman, President, and CEO of Southwest Airlines.  “Our Purpose at Southwest is to connect People to what’s important in their lives.  What better way to do that than by helping to create more access to our public spaces where communities can come together?”

Strengthened by broad community participation and engagement, Placemaking incorporates the planning, design, management, and program development for public spaces as a means to advance vibrant, sustainable communities. Placemaking strengthens the connection between people and the places they share. For the past half-century, common urban problems, like traffic-dominated streets, unused parks, and isolated, underperforming capital improvement projects have led to increased feelings of social isolation and division.

“The best way to build a sustainable world is by focusing on Place,” said Fred Kent, Founder and President of PPS. “Placemaking is more than how we design public spaces—it is a means by which people are collectively and intentionally shaping their environment and building deep and lasting community ties. Placemaking turns our approaches to land-use, transportation, governance, and the environment upside-down by asking people what they fundamentally need in a public space and empowering them to be a part of the development process.”

These six Heart of the Community spaces were selected through a competitive application process. Proposed projects are evaluated in terms of preliminary work and preparedness, capacity for local impact, potential for large-scale public-private partnerships, and strength of the commitment demonstrated by local partners.

Nonprofit organizations in each of the cities will administer the local grants. Partners include:

DowntownABQ MainStreet Initiative, Lee County Library System, Friends of Hemming 

Park, Creative Alliance Milwaukee, Friends of Congress Square Park and Grand Center, Inc. As a part of the Heart of the Community grant, each local partner will receive technical assistance from PPS to set a clear vision and programming platform, activating the space. The grant also funds a variety of physical amenities, such as tables and chairs, outdoor reading rooms, and information kiosks, innovative programming and project evaluation, – bringing new life and vibrancy to public spaces.

Read more about the key role public spaces play in community building: Places in the Making, an MIT whitepaper. Southwest’s ongoing commitment, via Employee volunteering and the Heart of the Community grants, is to award $1 million in 2015 across the six cities in order to aid their Placemaking projects.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.