Making Willimantic a Special Place

 1

12.1.2013

I recently attended a workshop at the Lyceum in Hartford on the topic of “The Many Faces of Placemaking”.  More than 65 attendees representing public and non-profit organizations listened to four (4) speaker’s present ideas on how to make your downtown a “special place”.

“Placemaking” is a new concept which deals with the process through which we collectively shape our public spaces to reflect our shared values. Rooted in community-based participation, Placemaking involves the planning, design, management and programming of events and activities in public spaces.  It serves to reflect and enhance the cultural, economic, and social dimensions of a community. It also sets the tone for making your town a destination for arts, entertainment, dining, and shopping. I attended this workshop because, as a member of our town’s Economic Development Commission, I am interested in finding ways to enhance the appeal of downtown Willimantic.

Each of the four (4) speakers had a particular focus that articulated community efforts to bring change to their town and/or Main Street.  Each was well credentialed as an Urban Planner with a variety of professional experiences.  There were many suggestions provided by the speakers some of which may be applicable to those who wish to enhance Willimantic’s image as a “special place”. As defined, a special public place is one where people want to be when they have time on their hands, where they want to linger, and where they often see friends. These could be parks, malls, sidewalk benches, sidewalk cafes, museums, walking streets, or libraries. It could be places where people often share their talents as an artist, poet, storyteller, actor, dancer or musician.   The speakers provided examples of how they organized community groups to transform a city street or building into a venue that attracted, in some cases, thousands of local and out-of town visitors.  Several speakers suggested surveying your community to first determine its cultural and physical resources, then through mobilizing a nucleus of volunteers as well as public officials, garner ideas on how to transform your town, and particularly its Main Street.

One speaker expressed the value of the “Power of Ten” as a potential guideline for community development.  The “Power of Ten” is a concept and an idea that suggests it’s not enough to have just one great place in a neighborhood –you need a number of them to create a truly lively town. And, it’s not enough to have just one event that defines your town, but a series of events that have a history of being repeated year- after- year. Using this as a guideline we were asked to reflect on whether we have ten (10) unique places to sit and linger (pocket parks),  ten (10) venues for artists to perform or present their work, and perhaps ten  (10) reoccurring events each year that distinctly define our town.

During the workshop I had occasion to interact with other participants. I must admit I was buoyed by the fact that when I mentioned I was from Willimantic, others would often comment; “Oh, you have Third Thursday”, or “You have the wonderful Boom-Box Parade” or the “Victorian Home Tour”.  It is worth mentioning each of these events is now more than ten (10) years old and each attracts hundreds if not thousands of people.

I went to the workshop to learn how to enhance Willimantic through the process of placemaking.  I left noting that we are on the right track.  We just need a few more: Pocket Parks, Sidewalk venues, Festivals and Main street events. I suggest we should think about developing an Autumn Festival and perhaps a First Night event.  We have an abundance of artists, and musicians in eastern Connecticut. We should find ways to highlight their talents in ways that make Willimantic a destination.  We should build upon our very successful community events to become known as the “City of Festivals”.

Mr. Horrocks serves on the Board for Thread City Development, member of the Windham Economic Development Commission in addition to being a retired Professor at Eastern Connecticut State University. Mr. Horrocks and his wife, Pam raised their family in Willimantic and have been residents of the historic Hill Neighborhood for over 25 years.


11/23/2013
Winter Parking Ban
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WillimanticDowntown.org was partially funded by a grant from Connecticut Main Street Center and the ‘Preservation of Place’ program in cooperation with the State Historic Preservation Office with funds from Community Investment Act of the State of Connecticut
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