Place Making Institute Sparks Insightful Discussions on Community Development and Character

Main Street, Abingdon, VA courtesy www.visitabingdonva.com

A select group of community planners and designers gathered in Newport, RI, from November 4-6 for the latest meeting of the Place Making Institute. During the meeting, participants discussed challenges and opportunities related to development, growth, and preservation with their peers and subject matter experts, yielding thoughtful insights and powerful takeaways.  

Taking place in person for the second time after an inaugural gathering in 2019, the Place Making Institute was organized by place-making experts Ronald Lee Fleming, FAICP, and Jeff Soule. The program focused on four communities– Abingdon, VA, Cumberland, RI, Chestertown, MD, and Coeur D’Alene, ID– each representing diverse geographies and ethnographies but facing similar challenges of balancing their historic character with their contemporary needs.

Mayanna Rice, director of community development for Abingdon, attended the meeting. She raised concerns about vacant buildings on her town’s once-vibrant Main Street and historic sites in need of maintenance and stewardship.

Jonathan Stevens, planning director for Cumberland, discussed how his town’s evolution as a bedroom community for Providence and Boston is impacting its approach to facilities and infrastructure.

Participants also took a closer look at Chestertown, a Chesapeake Bay waterfront college town facing issues with housing affordability and a need to foster better “town and gown” relations with its hometown flagship school, Washington College.

In examining Coeur D’Alene, participants considered issues like managing building height restrictions, integrating new housing in the historic district, and navigating the conflict between the state’s historic preservation guidelines and the lack of local rules.

The meeting took place in Newport at Bois Dore, the home of Anne Fairfax and Richard Sammons, who also served as faculty for the program. During the event, Fairfax and Sammons presented a compelling case for creating places that support the concept of “Gross National Happiness:” promoting sustainable and equitable socioeconomic diversity, environmental conservation and diversity, preservation and promotion of culture, and good governance.  

Participants also enjoyed a reception at Bellevue House and a tour of its signature gardens, hosted by Ron Fleming. Fleming and Jeff Soule presented a brief history of the Place Making Institute, focusing on the importance of cultural heritage and how to assess the design of a community to manage compatible growth and change.

For more information on the Place Making Institute, visit www.placemakinginstitute.org.