By PHIL RUGILE //
Anyone who follows initiatives like downtown revitalization has likely come across the term “placemaking.”
This refers to spaces created for specific purposes, usually capitalizing on a local community’s assets and potential. In practical terms, it means we can create places that attract millennials, spaces that address work/life issues, options that are compelling to transit-oriented commuters, whatever we might need.
The concept absolutely applies to business incubators and co-working spaces. Urban areas have been extremely successful in creating spaces that fit both work needs and lifestyle needs. Outside in the suburbs, though, not so much.
It’s a challenge for a place Long Island, given our geography, but things are changing, and that’s important.
We have seen movement with large projects, like the Ronkonkoma Hub, the Nassau Hub, Wyandanch Rising and others. These projects are focusing on industries and/or problem-solving in specific ways – building places with a purpose, mostly focused on combining retail and residential uses.
Although not necessarily revolutionary, it’s much more attractive than yet another suburban-sprawl housing development or a sterile Class A building on a busy highway.
Once upon a time, when you entered the workforce, you had a pretty good chance you’d stay at that company for a very long time, assuming you did your job and your company survived. And you lived in or near the town where you worked.
We all know that’s an unlikely scenario now. We are job-hopping, gig-economy workers with one eye on our current job and the other on the next opportunity. We’re not getting a sense of purpose or feeling of security from our employers, and thus loyalty to the job – and loyalty to the community – has decreased.
Coworking spaces are a great way to attract the very folks who have been job- and town-hopping for years now, but might actually stay put and build a business if they had the right space, in the right place.
It’s really community-building in the old-fashioned sense – working and living in the same area, being a contributing member of that community, subscribing to the live/work/play concept.
A venture-capital firm called Work America Capital announced a plan to build an innovation center on 32 acres of property in Texas, an all-encompassing work/live community. WeWork is doing this vertically with WeLive (clever), small buildings in New York City and Washington where you not only share workspace but apartments as well.
Another interesting company playing in the space is Medici Living Group (three buildings now, 1,300 more units in the next few years).
While these solutions are not for everybody, what’s different about them from what is usually proposed locally is the humans behind them are typically VCs and entrepreneurs, not large-scale builders backed by government funding. Government funding is fine, but I suspect it will yield a different outcome.
If you really want to create a “place” to attract a certain skillset or demographic, you need to do so from the point of view of that audience. It’s a decidedly 21st century way of thinking.
We have amazing incubators on campuses and in our research parks, but those are still relatively traditional R&D environments. We have a lot of well-meaning people and we certainly have enough talent to warrant trying anything we can, but the fact of the matter is most development is still 1960s-style big houses on small lots clustered near strip malls, costing high six figures, with crushing taxes.
Even the expansion of downtown apartments is not producing anywhere near the inventory of affordable units young entrepreneurs require. So, let’s take a closer look at what is happening elsewhere, what is working, what makes sense for a suburban version of “placemaking.”
And let’s make it happen here. Your kids and grandkids will thank you. And a few less cars on the road during rush hour wouldn’t hurt, either.