Placemaking is about creating a destination spot as much as it about designing a physical space. Anchor spots are businesses that have enough pull to attract people to a place as a destination. Restaurants and cafes are typically great anchors in any community. People are willing to go out of way to try a new eatery. Such places offer a unique value by not being available anywhere else. But anchors are more than a business, they are a place for people to share ideas and form relationships. When used effectively, they become vital parts in any community re-development plan.
The grocery store and other essential services such as dry cleaning, barber and a nail salon are more than businesses in tight knit communities they are part of the fabric that binds the town or neighborhood or area together. In parts of Brooklyn, the local barber is the equivalent of the local town hall. It is where people gather to find out about what is happening in the neighborhood. Such businesses are a vital part of the fabric of the neighborhood.
The tendency today is towards developing mix-use spaces to serve communities. Slowly collapsing across America is the old commuter model of living in one place and driving a distance to shop and driving a long distance to work. While this phenomenon does not mean that the suburbs are going to completely collapse, it does mean that there is an increasing need to create centralized places. People want to localize their lives. Areas that foster localization and community are becoming highly attractive and are also experiencing rising real estate values due to an increase in demand.
Perhaps, we are just realizing our time is too valuable to spend so much of it traveling from one place to the next, and we are also being hit with a constriction of resources. Suburbia splintered communities. The concept of a bedroom community is just that, it is a place to sleep, not a place to live. It fosters social isolation rather than networks. Anchors are psychical spaces but they are more than that, they foster networks and communication between people living in close proximity. They serve as a metaphorical town hall or they create a real town hall. For instance, Seattle made its town hall literally part of its public market and a place to host community events such as book readings and speakers. It is a place for people to gather to do more than just shop. It is a place to build relationships and share ideas.
Re-building a community requires not only restoring buildings and streetscapes but also the ties between people that bond them together. People need a place to gather and meet in their neighborhoods and anchor places create such a space. Restaurants, civic buildings and coffee shops create places for people to make connections. They serve a vital community need beyond driving revenue by strengthening the bonds between people. They create a space to share and exchange ideas and opinions. When people invest in communities, they grow and thrive.