Community Stakeholders Envision Creative Placemaking in Natick Center

Written by Patricia Walsh of Americans for the Arts and Mallory Nezam of MAPC

On Tuesday, May 27, and Friday, April 6, community members and local stakeholders took part in engagement workshops to envision the next steps for a Natick Center creative placemaking strategy. Thanks to Mutual One and Natick High School, which provided the spaces, a total of around 45 participants engaged in a series of workshops facilitated by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. Stakeholders ranging from business owners to high school students worked together to learn about creative placemaking and envision how Natick Center can be a more vibrant, accessible, and culturally inclusive place. Through hands-on activities, group discussions, and visioning sessions, participants spent the first part of the day discussing how arts and culture can help enhance the future of Natick Center in ways that engage diverse demographics and honor diverse artistic and cultural expressions. At the workshops, trends and consensuses of opinion began to emerge. Key takeaways include:

  • Stakeholders want public art in public spaces and places to honor a deep history – which includes indigenous perspectives – while preparing for a quickly changing future.
  • With a large senior and youth population in Natick, participants believe this project can help address generational divides.
  • There are many underutilized spaces in Natick Center with potential to become activated to better serve residents and visitors.
  • Natick Center boasts immense cultural resources and destinations, but lacks adequate wayfinding and signage to best represent these assets.
  • Most people drive in Natick, even between sites in the town center. This creative placemaking project needs to compel people to linger in Natick Center.

For the afternoon, participants traveled in groups to discuss four sites in Natick Center that could be the potential focus of a creative placemaking demonstration project this fall. These sites included two alleyways, a park near the commuter rail, and Natick Common. Teams gathered observations about the sites, and discussed possibilities for improvement. For example, many teams saw potential for an underutilized alley way to convert into a cultural space, with inventive lighting, seating and events.

After two workshops at Mutual One, MAPC’s team headed over to Natick High School to talk with a dozen students active in the school’s arts programs. These students provided insight into where they spend time in Natick Center and the types of activities they participate in. In a visioning exercise, high schoolers shared their visions for the future of Natick Center, which included spaces for local musical performances, locations for young people to congregate with friends, and even new buildings.

Overall, attendees learned about the principles of creative placemaking, and identified the civic issues the project should strive to advance and guiding values that will inform the design and demonstration of the strategy to enhance Natick Center. When asked what they enjoyed most about the workshop, one participant said that the workshop was a “very practical and fun interaction,” while another said they “liked working in groups and meeting new people involved [in the workshop].”

The Natick Center Creative Placemaking Project is a collaboration between the Town of Natick Department of Planning and Community Development, Natick Center Associates, and the Metropolitan Area Council. It is made possible with funding from the Barr Foundation and a Creative Placemaking Knowledge Building grant awarded to the American Planning Association by the National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA grant enables additional expertise to Natick partners and MAPC that is provided by the American Planning Association, Americans for the Arts, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, and Townscape Institute. To learn more about the NEA, check out this blog post.

Learn more about the Natick Center Creative Placemaking Project here!