Everyday Destinations

Creative Placemaking for Community Health

Planning Approaches to Encourage Physical Activity in Small and Rural Communities

Creative placemaking is when "partners from public, private, non-profit, and community sectors strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, city, or region around arts and cultural activities" (Gadwa and Markusen 2010). This strategy encourages communities to identify characteristics and assets that they would like to elevate through art installations and events, enhancing a sense of place and supporting vibrant community spaces.

Creative placemaking can reimagine existing destinations and create new destinations that encourage residents to visit new spaces, linger, and walk to local shops, attractions, and services. Planning process facilitators and participants, including planners, public health officials, and affiliated professionals, can promote strategies that use arts and culture to create everyday destinations.

Equity Considerations

Creative placemaking creates opportunities to elevate community values and perspectives, all while encouraging accessible arts and culture strategies that support everyday destinations.

Because the process involves community members as co-creators, it is one way to support inclusive problem-solving, recognize community histories, and implement opportunities to sustain residents in place while building community amenities. Placemakers and community partners can gather information about existing public spaces to determine whether they are currently inclusive of community members; this information can provide valuable inputs regarding the types of creative placemaking activities that can contribute to a welcoming environment for all members of the community.

Further, collaborative arts and culture activities can draw participants who may be hesitant to take part in traditional community engagement activities. Creative participation activities, such as storytelling, visual expression, and performance, can create welcoming spaces for community members to share perspectives that influence the community fabric.

This image features an intersection with a colorful public art piece as a crosswalk.

Destination Connectivity and Creative Placemaking: Creative placemaking projects can enhance connections between destinations. Source: Mrkent5780 (CC BY-SA 4.0) Melrose Promenade Public Art - Community Crosswalk

Connection to Small and Rural Towns

Creative placemaking preserves and amplifies community character, which is often a priority for small and rural towns or neighborhoods. It also encourages community members to share place-based stories, memories, and relationships and celebrates local assets through cultural activities.

Creative placemaking creates destinations that encourage physical activity by attracting residents to previously underused public spaces. A coordinated creative placemaking initiative can influence physical activity by adding vibrancy, creating new destinations, and developing opportunities for social interaction along existing routes, and it can encourage new routes in previously disconnected areas by integrating arts and culture.

Case Example: Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico

The Ho'n A:wan Community Park in Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico, is part of a community project that addresses community needs using arts and cultural practices (Clarke and Vest 2020). The 2.6-acre park and accompanying cultural center are destinations located at the heart of Zuni Pueblo. Home to the Zuni Youth Enrichment Program, an organization that provides opportunities for local youth to connect and the community, the park creates an opportunity to improve community health through cultural activities and programming.

Throughout the development phase, project leaders applied creative placemaking to create a community-led cultural hub that reflects local heritage. This project leveraged community engagement, local artists, and grant funding from the New Mexico Department of Health to gather community members' perspectives on what they would like to see at the new park. Artists and project leaders sought the input of parents, religious leaders, and youth in the Native American community to help create the community park and facility, which hosts classes, performances, and murals co-created with community members.

The community facility addresses equity consideration by not just engaging community members in decision-making processes, but also by providing access to resources to address health disparities present in the Zuni community, some of which stem from long-term trauma. The project provides opportunities to gather, share traditional art forms, and engage in outdoor activities, including through trails and community gardens.

Strategic Points of Intervention

Practitioners have a variety of options to help their communities implement creative placemaking practices. This section provides a non-exhaustive list of strategies that professionals with the ability to influence the built environment can use to improve access to everyday destinations. Collaboration between these professionals and public health is crucial as public health professionals can support planning approaches and engage partners but may not have the authority to implement some of the strategies identified below.

This blog encourages communication and engagement between public health and planners to discuss approaches that might be applicable in their community. For more information on the role of public health professionals in helping implement these strategies. For more information on other partners that play a role in implementing the growth area identification approach.

The following list of strategies can help professionals from different sectors come together and implement planning approaches that support a mix of accessible everyday destinations. Community engagement is crucial throughout every step of implementing the strategies below. Planners and public health professionals can collaborate to create equitable engagement to collect and act on community needs. Communities should select the strategies based on their context and constraints. The links at the end of actions provide more guidance materials and examples from small and rural towns across the country.

Community Visioning and Goal Setting

  • Create arts and culture vision statements that emphasize creative placemaking benefits, including encouraging economic development, building resiliency, and improving health.
  • Integrate goals that focus on using arts and culture to engage residents in creative placemaking and create community change.
  • Develop goals that encourage the involvement of artists and other partners critical to creative placemaking in the planning process.

Plan Making

  • Collaborate with community members and partners to identify accessible spaces for temporary or permanent art installations.
  • Highlight the importance of events, such as festivals and annual celebrations, that elevate local stories in comprehensive, subarea, and relevant functional plans. Trailhead & Creative Arts District Vision Plan in Thomasville, Georgia, presents goals and strategies for a subarea that connects community history, redevelopment, and art.
  • Include creative placemaking as part of community development plans, emphasizing inclusive practices to avoid displacement. The Perth Amboy Creative Placemaking Plan identifies four strategies and 22 goals to address social and economic challenges by building on unique cultural and historic assets.


  • Require developers to provide opportunities for local artists to engage the community, create public art, and take part in cultural activities. St. Paul, Minnesota, requires artist involvement in the preparation of plans or major capital investment projects (St. Paul, MN, Code of Ordinances, §12.04).
  • Establish cultural districts that support creative placemaking strategies in areas that have existing cultural assets.
  • Adopt regulations that create an arts-friendly environment, including allowing art installations as part of design standards, permitting mixed land use, designating cultural districts, and enabling live/workspaces for artists (Markusen and Gadwa 2010). Glendale, California, requires public art on development sites or the contribution of an in-lieu fee into the city's Urban Art Fund (Glendale, CA, Municipal Code, §30.37.060).

Development work

  • Present creative placemaking opportunities during development application and review processes for new developments. For instance, encourage developers to partner with local artists to create public installations in publicly accessible spaces.
  • Incentivize developers to support creative placemaking goals by providing benefits such as expedited development reviews, reduced parking requirements, and increasing development potential in exchange for collaboration or resources to support creative placemaking projects.
  • Create an artist-in-residence program or technical assistance program to connect developers with creative placemaking opportunities that re-imagine existing destinations or create new ones.
  • Develop resources that identify artists and arts-based community organizations that can partner with developers to implement creative placemaking through development projects.
  • Share resources with developers that illustrate the benefits of creative placemaking, such as educational materials that illustrate the health and economic impacts of incorporating arts.

Public Investment

  • Earmark local funds to advance goals and engage community members through arts and culture strategies.
  • Create funding for creative placemaking destinations through financing tools, including special assessments, percent for arts programs, and tax increment financing districts. Amherst, Massachusetts, adopted a percent for arts program that would support public art installations in public spaces.
  • Establish creative placemaking grant opportunities to encourage community members and partners to engage in arts and culture projects.
  • Use public assets for creative placemaking activities, such as integrating arts-based destinations in public streets, vacant lots, and existing public facilities. Bakersville, North Carolina, received a grant from the North Carolina Rural Center to implement ideas that support community assets, including public art installations, community art festivals, greenway investments, and infrastructure to support local artisans (Nicodemus 2014).
  • Support creative placemaking as part of capital improvement programs. This strategy can connect necessary repairs and investments with creative placemaking.

Potential Partnerships

Communities have active organizations, leaders, and professionals who can contribute to implementing the strategies provided in the previous section. Built environment and public health professionals should consider, and if applicable, reach out to the following groups to implement the adaptive reuse approach. These groups can also recommend other organizations that may be able to collaborate.

The following non-exhaustive list of partners offers potential starting points — there may be more partners to consider, depending on the community.

  • Engage community members and local artists from the start of a creative placemaking process to ensure that projects are aligned with shared community goals.
  • Identify needs and assets by working with arts and cultural organizations, such as performing and visual arts companies.
  • Collaborate with arts and culture institutions to create publicly accessible art installations with community members.
  • Connect with community and neighborhood development organizations to identify opportunities to connect partners and community members.
  • Bring students into the mix to co-create opportunities to connect arts and physical activity needs.
  • Connect with elected officials to champion arts-based everyday destinations.

We are interested in case examples that support physical activity through everyday destinations in communities with a population of less than 20,000 people. If you are aware of such communities, please share their stories with us at activepeople@cdc.gov. By directing us to such articles you can help other small and rural communities become more active and healthier.


Bennett, Jaimie. 2014. "Creative Placemaking in Community Planning and Development: An Introduction to ArtPlace America." Community Development Investment Review.

Clarke, Mark and Vest, Geneva. 2020. The Toolkit for Health, Arts, Parks & Equity. Trust for Public Land.

Glendale (California), City of. "§30.37.060 Urban Art." Municipal Code.

Housing Assistance Council and buildingcommunityWORKSHOP. 2017. Lessons from The Field: Reflections on Rural Placemaking.

Markusen, Ann, and Anne Gadwa. 2010. Creative Placemaking Executive Summary. National Endowment for the Arts.

National Endowment for the Arts. 2017. How to Do Creative Placemaking.

Nicodemus, Anne G. 2014. "Small is Beautiful: Creative Placemaking in Rural Communities." Grantmakers in the Arts Reader, Volume 25, Issue 2, Summer.

St. Paul (Minnesota), City of. 2009. "§12.04 Public Art: Planning and Design." Code of Ordinances.


This image is the logo for Active People, Healthy Nation, a national initiative to help Americans increase physical activity levels.

Active People, Healthy NationSM is a national initiative led by CDC to help 27 million Americans become more physically active by 2027. Increased physical activity can improve health, and quality of life, and reduce healthcare costs.

Top Image: the City of St. Petersburg, Fl/flickr.com (CC by-ND 2.0)

About the Authors
Jo Peña is a research associate with APA.
Sagar Shah is a planning and community health manager with APA.

December 21, 2021

By Johamary Pena, AICP, Sagar Shah, PhD, AICP