This post originally appeared in the Long Beach Business Journal.

A young couple sitting on a bench-watching strangers go about their daily lives.

A group of office workers eating lunch and sharing stories in the warm sun.

Two retirees playing chess under a tree while chatting about the day’s news.

Although these simple acts may seem inconsequential, they are actually important indicators as to the vibrancy and economic health of Downtown Long Beach (DTLB).

By offering people public spaces where they feel comfortable, they are more likely to want to spend time, spend money, come back and do it again, and tell their friends about their experience.

The primary purpose of placemaking is to create and foster these memorable places. Placemaking is largely considered having the community take a direct role in the design of the public places so those spaces – whether they be streets, sidewalks, parks or promenades – reflect its needs and ideals.

As cities around the country compete for a share of the knowledge-based economy, it is critical for DTLB to invest resources in making our shared spaces attractive for existing and new urban dwellers.

There are several city-led initiatives underway to create a more livable downtown, such as the reconfiguration of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, 6th Street and 7th Street into a safer environment for vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists, and a Downtown Pedestrian Master Plan exploring strategies to make walking and access to transit safer.

While these projects and plans will benefit downtown for decades to come, they are often years in the making. In contrast, over the past few years residents, businesses and non-profits have taken the initiative to make a positive change by taking on less expensive projects that improve the public realm. From the recent week-long street art event, POW! WOW! Long Beach, to the new Children’s Gateway Garden at Cesar Chavez Park, these community-led initiatives are transforming downtown’s public realm into places appreciated by residents and visitors alike.

These smaller, “tactical” projects are being completed by a wider group of downtown stakeholders and are making a large impact for a relatively small investment, and sometimes in a short time period.

To help further the current growth and economic vibrancy of Downtown Long Beach, it is important that we continue to make livability a priority and make both large and small investments in the creation of public spaces that are welcoming and that foster experiences that are memorable.

It is often these tangible and intangible elements that attract further investment, whether that be a new business owner opening his or her first restaurant, or a young couple buying their first home.

The southeast corner of Pine Avenue and Ocean Boulevard has been left derelict for almost a quarter of a century, however, spurred on by last year’s Urban Land Institute exploration of ideas to better connect the waterfront to the rest of downtown, the DLBA is in the process of imagining a new space that better represents what Long Beach is today – a thriving multicultural city.

Sometime in the near future there will be a space where can you relax, listen to music, or enjoy a conversation with friends. And there’s a good chance you’ll want to come back and do it all over again, and tell your friends about it.

 Sean Warner is the Placemaking Manager for the Downtown Long Beach Alliance.

Placemaking: Creating A More Livable Downtown

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