What is placemaking?

In recent years, there has been a growing recognition that place matters in creating healthy, prosperous communities where people want to live, work, play and learn. An inspiring and engaging place can generate greater outcomes for our community's social, economic and physical well-being than one might expect.
Placemaking is an approach to “help citizens transform their public spaces into vital places that highlight local assets, spur rejuvenation and serve common needs.” – Project for Public Spaces  

What we're doing at WSU

Now more than ever, Wayne State University and our campus community can make a meaningful contribution toward Midtown and Detroit’s revitalization. This past fall, we launched a series of short-term experiments and an engagement campaign in partnership with Neighborland to collect your ideas about how Wayne State can become a better place. Our goal is to have at least 10 percent (>3,500) of all students, faculty, staff and alumni meaningfully engage in this initiative to help shape Wayne State. 

Stakeholders and decision makers from across the university with a vested interest in placemaking on campus formed a Placemaking Steering Committee in Spring 2014. The Committee includes representatives from the Dean of Students Office, Marketing and Communications, Facilities Planning and Management, Business and Auxiliary Operations, Student Senate, Housing and Residential Life, Campus Fitness & Recreation, Athletics, Development and Alumni Affairs. The Office of Economic Development is coordinating this effort.

What we've done in 2015

Starting in Spring 2015, we began testing out several pilot projects to experiment with responses to the leading ideas listed below. In September, we conducted a survey to get feedback on our efforts to date. Over 500 survey respondents shared their feedback. Below is a snapshot of what we learned:

  • Two-thirds of respondents found the Walk [Wayne State] signs informative (and 75% would like to see more).
  • 1 in 3 respondents had noticed the bike repair stand (and >50% expect to use the bike repair stand in the future).
  • 3 out of 4 respondents noticed the DIA's Inside Out paintings around campus this summer (and 90% agree public art improves campus).
  • 1 in 3 respondents that have noticed the outdoor seating have used it (and nearly 95% believe such seating enhances public space at Wayne State).

Walk [Wayne State]Public Bike Repair Stand & Air PumpDIA Inside|Out, Chair-Bombing


We also recruited a team of student leaders to help lead this placemaking initiative: the WSU PlaceMakers! These students represent a diverse array of disciplines and are responsible for the implementation and evaluation of Wayne State's tactical urbanism experiments.

Leading ideas

Throughout the 2014 fall semester, we heard from more than 400 people and gathered nearly 200 ideas to reimagine our public spaces. Ideas were submitted online, via text and in-person at Convocation, PARK(ing) Day, the WSU Farmers Market, Student Org Day and football games. The most popular ideas are listed below:

PARK(ing) Day
  • More dining/food options 
  • More bike-friendly features on campus
  • Better parking options
  • More green space and outdoor seating
  • More cultural activities
  • Better public transportation options
  • Filled campus fountains (e.g., DeRoy Auditorium and Fountain Court)
  • A skate park in Midtown
  • Holiday lights/improved lighting across campus
  • A larger and more diverse Farmers Market
  • Electric vehicle charging stations
  • A fully wheelchair accessible campus
  • Day care, child care and pet care

A comprehensive list of ideas is available hereBased on this feedback, the Placemaking Steering Committee continues to select projects to implement and test.

Placemaking objectives

Our collective objectives for placemaking at Wayne State include the following: 

  1. Engage a broad audience of students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members.
  2. Promote transparency by sharing what activities are taking place on and around campus. 
  3. Inform future projects and activities with ongoing feedback platforms and short-term experiments.
  4. Create porous borders to invite the Midtown and greater Detroit community onto campus.
  5. Have a lasting presence or physical space on campus to share placemaking activities and gather ideas.
  6. Prioritize common interests by gathering and synthesizing the feedback we receive. 
  7. Improve intra-campus communication by facilitating the sharing of ideas across Wayne State.

Project scope

Ideas generated from this initiative are not guaranteed to be realized, though they will play an integral role in informing existing and future projects or activities on and around campus.* While Wayne State has many large capital projects that it would like to complete, they often cost hundreds of thousands of dollars — sometimes millions. We are looking for quick, light, cheap and easier alternatives to create the vibrant atmosphere we all aspire to have in the heart of Midtown.

*Note: Suggestions related to academic excellence (e.g., tuition, fees, research and curriculum) are beyond the scope of this project. President Wilson's Strategic Plan is intended to address those issues, although this initiative is in alignment with the Strategic Plan's Community Engagement Objective.

Timeline and events

The initial listening campaign lasted from September 2014 through December 2014, though we will continue to collect ideas via on an ongoing basis. We will implement and test various projects in response to this feedback starting in early 2015 and beyond. Stay tuned!


Curious to learn more? Have a question or suggestion? Contact Jeri Stroupe, Sr. Project Administrator, Office of Economic Development, at 313-577-9778, or join our mailing list.