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What Is Place?

By Heather Van Poucker

Place is a cultural exploration. Place can be a small thing with a big impact. Place is more than just a location. It is people, involvement, and community. Place matters. If we had said those two words a few years ago, most would’ve had no idea what we were talking about. Today, the terms “place” and “placemaking” are part of the everyday vernacular.

port huron

Research shows that placemaking matters more than ever. At the League, our purpose is to help local officials identify, develop, and implement strategies that will grow and strengthen Michigan’s communities in the coming decades. We have broken all of it down into the following placemaking assets:

Physical Design & Walkability
Whether your community is big or small, it is important to create a physical fabric that promotes social connections where people can live, work, and play.

Green Initiatives
“Thinking green” is a critical asset of any viable community. It impacts natural resources, quality of life, and the financial bottom line.

Cultural Economic Development (CED)
Arts and culture should be a part of any long-term economic development strategy. CED plays a big role in developing and preserving a community’s identity and uniqueness.

In the new economy, we need to focus on growing jobs in our communities by ones and twos for long-term sustainability.

brighton mill pond

Our global economy is fueled by the talent and ingenuity of people from around the world. Welcoming those from different backgrounds can result in a whole new level of innovation.

Messaging & Technology
Technology allows people to connect and collaborate like never before. Communities have a powerful opportunity to engage with their citizenry and beyond.
People are choosing to live, play, and work in communities that embrace all modes of transportation—walking, biking, and public transit.

Education (K-16)
Our educational institutions are key to growing a knowledge-based state. Leveraging these institutional resources is critical. How neighborhoods, communities, regions, and states deal with these issues is limited only by their willingness to pioneer solutions for implementation. Swapping entrenched sacred cows for innovative strategies, creating new methods for delivering traditional government services, and fostering effective community engagement should be the measuring stick for which we all live by.

League Trustees response to “What is your favorite place, and why?”

My favorite place is our downtown, especially the Mill Pond. Generations of families play at the Imagination Station, get ice cream, and enjoy being together. My other favorite place is our property up north—we go to Charlevoix to picnic and play at Lake Michigan. (Our youngest grandson from Oklahoma calls it the “ocean”...but we don’t correct him.)
Ricci Bandkau, Mayor, Brighton

Lakes have always been my favorite places. I grew up near Lake Michigan and now live near Lake Huron. There is nothing better than watching the sunset or the sunrise over the lake. Summer picnics with campfires, volleyball, boating, swimming—people are happier near water.
Deb Greene, Mayor Pro Tem, Rogers City

My favorite place is Sunday Lake. It has a day-use facility with a park, tennis courts, little league field, and campground nearby. Additionally, a lighted walking trail surrounds the lake, providing a beautiful experience for residents and visitors. In spring 2013, construction will begin on a new community building providing a panoramic view of the lake and hills, making Sunday Lake and everything that surrounds it truly someplace special.
Dick Bolen, Mayor, Wakefield

One spot has a special place in my heart—the Armory Arts Village. Originally a state penitentiary, it was renovated into an artist colony. Jackson won the League’s Community Excellence Award Cup in 2008 for this project. My wife and I had our wedding reception there. Art displays served as decorations, and tours were conducted for our guests.
Dan Greer, Councilmember, Jackson

A vision to behold…water flowing from Lake Huron under the Blue Water Bridge into the St. Clair River by Thomas Edison Park. Whether you walk along the riverfront, drive on the parkway, bike, rollerskate, or gaze at the many freighters, sailboats, and cruisers, you will never find a more beautiful and serene view. This is one of my favorite places. It keeps my husband and I in Port Huron. It is also where my husband proposed to me.
Pauline Repp, Mayor, Port Huron

My favorite main street spot is a wonderful juxtaposition of charming, old store fronts and modern office buildings. My favorite parks range from a pocket lot on a neighborhood corner to a renowned arboretum to a premier baseball complex. Each one of these spots has a special identity, a feeling, a character that makes me want to come back—often!
Susan Baldwin, Mayor, Battle Creek

Heather Van Poucker is the director of Information and Policy Research for the League. You may contact her at 734-669-6326 or

Want more?
Read “Building Place: The Key to Healthy, Sustainable Communities,” by Dan Burden, from the League placemaking book. Burden is an international authority on livable and sustainable communities, healthy streets, traffic calming, and bicycle and pedestrian programs.



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