Transforming Urban Places - A new contest awards creative urban artists and neighborhood organizations

How does a city enliven its public spaces and enrich the lives of residents? One option is to promote ‘placemaking’. That’s a term that seems to cover a lot of ground, but at its most basic expression, involves individuals working creatively to make a place better.

A contest recently announced by the the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) in Chicago seeks to encourage creative interpretations of this activity. The contest will award cash to individuals or organizations who are transforming blighted or abandoned areas in the Chicago/Gary/Milwaukee metropolitan region. The contest is called “Space in Between“. According to the MPC, the contest ‘seeks to highlight exceptional individuals or groups in and around Chicago who have taken it upon themselves to transform vacant, empty, or blighted space (often temporarily) into a community asset.” The most common expression of this idea might be a community garden or a painted public bench, but increasingly, artists are engaging with the public space in inventive ways.

Look at the French street artist JR, winner of last year’s TED award for example. JR wants to “use art to turn the world inside out“. He identifies blighted or overlooked urban communities, and gathers people there to make huge photographic portraits of themselves and their neighbors. Then, he organizes public posting of those giant images within the neighborhood. JR focuses on some of the most contested areas of the world. His images transform not only the place, but also aim at transformation of public perceptions and encourages engagement of people who might otherwise pass one another unnoticed.

Check out the MPC’s website, There is a lot of really cool information there, not only about the contest, but also links to “Placemaking Chicago” with tips, tools, background and encouragement on how to go about “making place” in your own neighborhood.

Are you a “placemaker”? If you are, or you know someone who fits the bill, the contest is open until August 31st. Consider applying. Here is a short video explaining the contest. You can find rules, and instructions for entering at The submission deadline is August 31st.

The MPC will also be hosting a luncheon conversation on July 25th at their annual meeting. They’ve included Mayor Rahm Emanuel, together with the mayors of Milwaukee and Gary at their upcoming annual luncheon. You can buy a ticket or host a table here.


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  • Thanks for this great coverage of the contest.
    To any prospective entrants, note that projects can date back to 2008 and need no longer be in existence, as long as you have photos or video.
    Watch our video here:
    The entry form is very simple; enter today! We'd love to hear about your great project.
    Marisa Novara
    Metropolitan Planning Council

  • In reply to mnovara:

    Thanks so much for the info. I hope to hear about the projects submitted!

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