Flint’s Downtown Development Authority recently hired Kady Yellow as director of placemaking. In the newly created role, Yellow will work to increase both the number and types of activities that take place downtown while strengthening a culture of inclusion. Her work begins Feb. 10.

Kady Yellow

Inside Business interviewed Yellow about her goals for the new position and the discipline of placemaking. Yellow’s upbringing along with her hands-on work in the arts fuels her passion about the importance of placemaking, as cities like Flint are transformed.

Although Yellow has a Master’s in arts administration, she has been doing fieldwork since first learning about the theoretical side of placemaking in academia in a civic entrepreneurship course (which examined communities as classrooms). Yellow is a native of Binghamton, N.Y., a post-industrial, rust-belt town, similar in some ways to Flint. The world’s largest computer company was founded in a nearby town and eventually left. The manufacturing industry was uprooted as well.

Inside Business:  Talk about the art of placemaking.

Yellow:  Before we dive into the art of a city as a canvas, let’s dive into the word itself by breaking it down to the words: place and making. Place is a city – it's parks, public spaces, streets and waterfronts. Making implies building, putting together. Combined, placemaking is a term to describe putting people together with places through events, art, music and pop-up activities. The art comes in the process of building strong towns by building strong friendships.

As an art form, it takes imagination, vision and creativity to lead a placemaking initiative. Like painting an oil canvas, you need your tools brushes, linseed oil, canvas, pigments, paint palette and easel. In placemaking, you need people, places, ideas, partnerships and resources.

The Place Diagram, created by the Project for Public Spaces

IB:  What is it and what isn’t it?

Yellow:  It is the process of creating great places! Great places share four characteristics: They are easy to get to; they are safe, clean and attractive; they are full of fun activities; and they are friendly places where people want to be.

It is resident-driven. It is not one person or small group coming up with ‘great ideas’ and putting them in motion; hoping everyone likes them. It is not gentrification. It is not alienating. It is not successful without community-oriented, vibrant people.

IB:  What does our downtown have going for it?

Yellow:  Flint has everything you need for a great place and the ideal foundation to build upon:

  • The active business community and growing storefront density, mixed-use: Theatre, restaurants, coffee shops, great food, markets, bars, independent bookstores, independent clothing stores, a farmer’s market, galleries and arts organizations.
  • It has these beautiful, European-like alleys, pocket parks and a waterfront.
  • It has housing. Most residential buildings downtown have a waiting list. That’s amazing! Additionally, soon to open are the Marketplace Apartments. And it is nice housing, built with real thought and care.
  • Overall, it has a sense of community. It has a look. It has art and great architecture. You can turn any corner and see world-class mural paintings, which is actually what attracted me to Flint. It has an energy and feels open and ready for more!

IB:  What are the challenges?

Yellow:  My priority, and often a challenge to working in the public realm, is inclusivity and access. It can be easy to say an event and/or space is welcoming and open to all. But what does the crowd look like? Is it diverse? Is it really for all? There is real work to do to achieve this critical aspect of placemaking. Everyone needs to feel like it’s their downtown.

IB:  What are the geographic boundaries of downtown?

Yellow:  Some maps show where downtown starts and ends, … we cannot restrict our outreach and engagement to those boundaries. Strong downtowns are a result of strong neighborhoods.

IB:  Talk about the “What’s Up Downtown" initiative that you will lead?

It’s a very new initiative, building off an already existing downtown … that will specifically focus on infusing the downtown with more regularly scheduled, year-round activities that are memorable and create opportunities to meet more of your city.

IB:  What do you need from or ask of the community at-large in this endeavor?

Yellow:  To speak up about what you want to see downtown in terms of events, activities, art and music. Also, to bring your talents into the downtown arena. If you or someone you know it creative, please connect with me so I can see how to celebrate your creativity in the form of an event, workshop, or some program.

  • To work together.
  • To understand that good things take time.
  • To fold in other relationships, regionally. Do you know artists in Detroit that offer a kind of creativity Flint does not have? Let’s invite them over and find a way to share the craft.
  • To re-imagine space. Instead of seeing a brick wall, see it as a canvas for a mural or to project a film onto for a movie night. Re-imagine an empty lot like the perfect spot for an artist market village.

IB:  What does success look like?

Yellow:  Placemaking initiatives take time. To me, success would be a winter that does not crawl by, because we are doing cool things together downtown. Success is the workday ending at 5 p.m. and we see a transition to a lively downtown, where professionals stay after work to meet coworkers at live-music concert series. Success is more people coming to the downtown area more regularly. Success is introducing people in public spaces that otherwise not meet.

IB:  What are some successful examples of placemaking that may be applicable to Flint?

Yellow:  It’s not one-size-fits-all, so it’s hard to say a project that worked somewhere else would work in Flint. As I mentioned earlier, the ideas need to come from the community to be successful.

Some ideas that may be welcomed by Flint are winter holiday markets, art conferences, makers markets, mural tours, pocket-park parties, more live music along the riverfront and a lot more hands-on opportunities for families to get creative. I have seen success in digital projection and virtual reality events, tactical urbanism, bike-meets, walking tours, restaurant-weeks, dancing and live music, art workshops, murals and public art, chalk art festivals, and food-centered celebrations.

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There will be a meet-and-greet on Feb. 13, from 4-6 p.m., at the Ferris Wheel, 615 Saginaw St. RSVP at https://www.facebook.com/events/ 1315717631969338/