Communities in rural areas often struggle to maintain economically viable downtowns. Communities persist with preservation efforts because downtowns are historically and culturally important, and they are often where locally owned small business can be found. Existential threats to downtowns come from macro-economic trends, land use decisions, traffic patterns and other sources. In west central Wisconsin a common challenge is that Main Street is often a state highway. While the highway can provide needed customers to Main Street businesses, too much traffic can also affect quality-of-life by reducing walkability and detracting from a community's unique qualities often referred to as place.
The West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (WCWRPC), in collaboration with Livability Solutions' designated technical assistance provider (Project for Public Spaces) defined four objectives for technical assistance:
(1) Demonstrating how the Power of 10 tool can be used by small, rural communities to assess their downtowns and create a revitalization action plan.
(2) Using the cities of Colfax and Owen as examples of the Power of Ten tool in action.
(3) Conducting a regional-level exercise which will guide future regional partnerships and demonstrate applying tools at different geographic levels.
(4) Building capacity of WCWRPC staff and participants so the Power of 10 tool can be applied elsewhere.
The technical assistance consisted of three workshops demonstrating Placemaking tools that WCWRPC wished to adopt, replicate and incorporate into their planning with rural communities. Workshops were held in Owen (population 982) and Colfax (population 1158) showing how the Place Game and Power of 10 could be used to prioritize actions for revitalizing downtowns. (Prior to PPS' visit, the WCWRPC conducted small workshops with high school and middle school students in Colfax and Owen to broaden the reach of the public input.)
The third workshop was a regional Power of 10 summit held in Eau Claire, WI. The summit used the Power of 10 tool -- which had been previously demonstrated at the local level -- at the regional (7 counties) level to demonstrate how Placemaking tools could be scaled up. PPS concluded the site visit by working with WCWRPC staff to develop performance measures for their Placemaking efforts.
"The WCWRPC Placemaking summit was game changing for the communities. Placemaking has become integral in the towns' planning and a major driving factor in their economic development strategies." Source: WCWRPC staff.
Eau Claire has continued to use the Place Audit tool and the summit's PowerPoint presentations for additional Placemaking meetings. The City's recent downtown plaza project, which utilized the Placemaking tools and process, won a state American Planning Association award.
In Rice Lake, the local Chamber of Commerce, Main Street Association, local government staff, and community groups formed a Placemaking committee and developed an action plan for their downtown. The town also received a small grant to help redevelop a vacant lot at the gateway to downtown into a more aesthetically pleasing place that encourages people to visit and linger.
Woodville is pursuing a small grant to install murals and some of the small exterior improvements to the Pioneer Building identified the project's report recommendations.
In June 2015, WCWRPC facilitated a Placemaking exercise in the City of Barron with an emphasis on gateways, downtown, park improvements, and connectivity.
WCWRPC has continued to advocate for the inclusion of Placemaking concepts into community plans.