Written for Minnesota Shopping Center Association (MSCA):
It’s no surprise to anyone who is a member of MSCA, that the world of retail is changing. But with so much in flux, it can be hard to determine the direction of this change. During MSCA’s recent Learning Session on The Dollars and Sense of Placemaking for Shopping Centers, John Breitinger (United Properties/Cushman Wakefield), Jeff Hagen (Platinum Properties), and I discerned what we are seeing at a macro level and how we’ve made tactical changes to shopping centers in response.
A New Direction in Retail
We all know that the rise of e-commerce, demographic shifts, and economic change has introduced an unprecedented level of disruption for bricks and mortar retailers.
Savvy merchants are navigating – and thriving - by integrating online, mobile, and in-store experiences to deliver their wares, but where does that leave shopping centers? John Breitinger laid out four reasons for people to still visit bricks and mortar merchants and shopping centers that were “defensible” against online competition:
Towards a World of Extremes
Not only do customers have fewer reasons to need to visit a shopping center, competition between centers is becoming increasingly winner-take-all. In the past, the relative success of retailers and shopping centers within a market area followed a bell curve; a few did really well, a few were dramatically underperforming, but most were around the market’s average for occupancy. That is now changing.
In most markets, the bell curve has been inverted into a “saddle”. With the most frequent performance levels in terms of sales and occupancy now being either very low or very high. This is great news for those in the top quartile, but for the other centers, Breitinger warned that it has become incredibly difficult to revive one if it had lost its strong position. He added, “The strongest places are turning in the best performance on every measure.”
Two key strategies to regaining and maintaining market dominance: Tenant Mix and Creating a Vibrant Social Scene
The first two defensible reasons for people to continue to visit bricks and mortar shopping centers are primarily delivered by tenants. The mix of retailers has always been a critical element of a center’s success, but the ideal flavor of that mix has shifted. The grocery-anchor is still strong, but entertainment, restaurant, recreation, and destination services and experiences are all emerging as increasingly important features of successful shopping centers.
So if you have the right tenant mix – and especially if you don’t – how does one create a vibrant social atmosphere within your shopping center? How can you foster an experience that will draw people in, regardless of their initial desires, and keep them there longer once they arrive?
Placemaking as a Strategy to Create Social Life
The key to cultivating a vibrant experience and social life in any shopping center lies within its common area. These are the spaces that the owner completely controls, that every customer has to utilize, and that connects the tenant spaces to each other.
The process of placemaking requires thinking about your shopping center holistically and putting the wants, needs, and desires of your customers at the forefront. In helping bring social life (and financial returns) to dozens of retail, office, housing, and community spaces, we’ve found that there are six factors that needs to brought into balance:
In order to determine what the right combination of these elements needs to be, one then needs to continually:
Placemaking Tips and Tricks to Generate Results
The learning session concluded with Jeff Hagen and I discussing our implementation of this placemaking strategy at the grocery-anchored Vadnais Square which his firm owned. Things that worked there, which are broadly applicable to other shopping centers include:
Hagen reported that these additions had turned “Vandais Square (into) a hub of activity. Customers were eating outside in the revamped patio and then hanging out for hours. Vadnais Square became a gathering place for the community. The only complaint from tenants was that they want more of what we’d done.”
Additional tactics that we have deployed elsewhere that proved effective at cultivating social life include:
The imperative is real and the possibilities are endless. Every shopping center has the opportunity to turn shifting trends into their new competitive advantage. And the process of placemaking provides us with the path to get there.
By Max Musicant, Principal: Placemaker, The Musicant Group
Written for Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA)
The war for talent is on. Savvy tenants are looking for workplaces and entire buildings to be places that their employees want to be and that keep them productive. Employees increasingly want experiences more than things. We see this in consumer purchasing habits, with more being spent on the experiences of travel, restaurants, and activities relative to hard durable goods.
The same thing holds for the 21st century office environment. To stay competitive, today’s office building needs to provide more than just amenities and one-off events. The focus now needs to be on delivering compelling daily experiences that facilitate creativity, connection, and wellness for tenants.
These experiences are best delivered in the common areas: atriums, plazas, skyways, and even elevator bays. These spaces drive the brand for the building as every tenant and guest has to pass through them. And, because they are solely cared for by the property management team, valuable experiences can be easily delivered in a way that benefits every tenant.
Here in the Twin Cities, we’ve all seen the multi-million dollar transformations of common areas in buildings like Capella Tower and Washington Square. But can these value-added experiences be created without a major capital overhaul?
The answer is yes!
How to Create Valuable Experiences
Valuable experiences are created by the interplay between the physical environment, the management of that environment, and the activities, uses, and events that occur within that environment.
We can determine what the right combination of these elements to create value, by thinking through what people want to be able to do in your building’s common areas. Once you have developed this list, examine your common area spaces; are they conducive to fostering the uses, activities, and experiences your tenants’ desire?
Let’s see how this process was used and value created in an existing space, with a relatively modest budget.
Case Study: 333 South 7th Street
In 2014 CBRE management and leasing team wanted more out of the ½ outdoor lawn area of the 333 S. 7th Street tower. The space was attractive and well maintained – befitting a Class A building – but the space was not used for much; as a pathway to the building, as a place for a smoke break, and the occasional tenant event. In their effort to make it a valuable place, they engaged The Musicant Group.
Engagement and Research
Rather than rolling out a fully formed initiative right away, we engaged with tenants through interviews and online surveys to determine what they wanted. We discovered that tenants wanted movable seating that would allow them to enjoy the lawn alone or in groups and more things to do in the space itself. We then engaged with building engineers and security personnel to ensure that any future improvements were scaled to meet their existing capacity.
Rollout and Messaging
We took the feedback from all parties and determined that outdoor beach chairs and lawn games were the most value-added elements to introduce. We then paired these additions with a multichannel communications effort – naming the space “The Turf Club”, adding signage, and email promotions – to spread enthusiasm and excitement about the place and the experiences therein.
And the process is never done! Every season we have reengaged with the management team and tenants to evaluate what worked, needs to be enhanced, dropped, and added. Through this process The Turf Club is now home to weekly concerts, outdoor fitness activities, monthly happy hours, and an ever-increasing amount of tenant events of all sizes.
So what was the value created by taking this existing space and adding a modest, but targeted, amount of new furniture, fixtures, programs, management systems, and communications?
As a visitor to the space, it passes the smell test. During the summer months, the lawn is always filled with people: having meetings, grabbing lunch, taking a break, or discussing business over a game of bag toss, bocce, or ladder golf. Through end-of year surveys, we’ve found that due to the Turf Club:
Bob Traeger, General Manager of the building, states, “Tenants absolutely want to stay in this building and renew their leases, in large part, because of what we offer their employees through the 333 Turf Club”. The leasing materials now feature the Turf Club front and center in making the pitch for being in the building.
Testimonials from tenant employees certainly bear this out:
The Secret Sauce
To close, any space – outdoor or inside - can become a more valuable place. The secret sauce is the process that determines what tenants want to experience and delivering it through a combination of physical enhancements, programming, management systems, and communications.
By Max Musicant, Principal, The Musicant Group
Written for Metropolitian Council's Expert Articles:
What is a place? A place is a physical location, of any size, that is useful, meaningful, feels good to be in, and benefits those things around it. A place is formed through an interwoven system of physical elements, the stewardship of those elements, and the uses, activities, and experiences that happen within that environment. A good gauge of a place, is somewhere you’d feel comfortable spending 20 minutes in with nothing “to do”.
So what is “Place-making”? Placemaking then, is a lens through which any activity relating to the built environment happen, rather than something that is merely attached to “business as usual”. Through the comp plan process we collectively strive to create places of communal and commercial value within our communities and for the municipality as a whole. So how does a community most effectively do this?
How the Comprehensive Plan Can Foster the Creation of Places
Integrate and connect uses: More and more people are demanding a “one-drive life”, where they are willing to drive once or twice a day, but then want to access services, amenities, etc. on foot and bike. This is particularly important for youth and the elderly. Strategies to accomplish this include expanding networks of bike and pedestrian pathways (beyond just parks), expanding multi-use zoning, and eliminating parking minimums.
For a guide on how to create dynamic, integrated places at all scales, see: A Pattern Language, by Christopher Alexander
Every space as a social place: Over the last few decades, opportunities for serendipitous social interactions have been greatly reduced. It has reached a point where people are voting with their feet and now actively seeking out (and pay money for) places where they can be with and around other people. These places need not be limited to parks and special events though! Every space can be a social space: from strip malls to main streets, office buildings to front yards.
For a step-by-step guide on how to transform a front yard (or the yards of an entire neighborhood) from empty space, to a social place, see the (free) Friendly Front Yard Toolkit, developed by The Musicant Group
Stewardship: Physical spaces don’t take care of themselves and need active stewardship (and often programming) in order for them to live up to their fullest potential and value. Be sure to allocate sufficient resources for the care and activation of your community’s public and shared spaces.
Are your rules and regulations allowing “small good things” to happen easily? Small actions by small actors often are the seeds that lead to big positive changes. But if these “small good things” are burdened with too many hurdles, than many of these things will simply never come to fruition. Consider scaling event, small businesses, and other regulatory measures to the size of the activity – the smaller the scale, the more limited the process, the larger, vice versa.
Utilize Experiments and Pilot Projects: Using placemaking experiments and pilot projects can be a great way to test concepts, engage the community and build momentum for large-scale land-use, infrastructure, economic development and public space initiatives.
For inspiration check out the Tactical Urbanism Guide.
By Max Musicant, Founder and Principal: Placemaker, The Musicant Group
To read the full article, go here.
Are you looking for some tips and tricks to enhance your outdoor space? Summers are a great time of year to gather and bring people together to enjoy the outdoors. Below are some helpful placemaking tips on how to easily, cheaply, and effectively transform spaces from front yards to plazas to patios.
The Musicant Group hosted an interactive and creative placemaking experience at the Great River Gathering's 2016 closing event presented by the Saint Paul Riverfront Corporation.
The Everyday Equity in Design installation was presented by The Musicant Group with Friendly Streets Initiative and Metro Transit. The installation represented our physical environment and how it has a tremendous effect on how we feel and connect (or don't) with each other and our surroundings. Attendees experienced two of our society's most ubiquitous spaces - the front lawn and the bus stop - reimagined as places that are full of community, connection, and life.
The Great River Gathering is an annual celebration that brings together an influential and diverse group of civic leaders and community members, all of whom share a commitment to creating a world-class greater MSP region.
Check out the photo album here.
The Musicant Group was honored to host three sessions on Transformative Placemaking at The Bush Foundation's 2016 BushConnect Conference held at the Guthrie Theater.
At these sessions, the participants got a practical introduction to Transformative Placemaking, a feeling-based, incremental process to creating places that mirror how organic life grows and continually adapts. They then learned how to apply this approach to any environment – from the mundane to the monumental. Finally, participants unleashed into the confines of bushCON to put theory into practice and create placemaking installations based on what they’ve learned.
bushCONNECT is a leadership networking event that builds stronger and more meaningful connections among leaders in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and the 23 Native nations that share the same geographic area.
#bushCON is powered by the The Bush Foundation in partnership with more than 40 organizations from the region. The day included inspiring talks, engaging small-group sessions, conversations with community leaders, and interactive networking experiences, all designed to inspire, equip and connect leaders for success. Learn more here.
Check out our photo album here.
The Musicant Group is excited to announce that it has been awarded a Knight Cities Challenge Grant in partnership with the Friendly Streets Initiative!
This coming summer, we will create a platform of knowledge, action, and mutual support that will catalyze the transformation of large swaths of our cities into places full of community, connection, and opportunity.
We will do this by creating a data-driven placemaking toolkit to guide everyday citizens on the value of and process of transforming the most ubiquitous and underutilized space in our country: the American front lawn.
Front Yard Placemaking Toolkit: a platform for large-scale change will provide a step-by-step placemaking process that will enable citizens, first within St. Paul, then beyond, to turn their empty expanses of grass into places that they and their neighbors want to be.
The Front Yard Placemaking Toolkit will inspire and guide residents of all income levels and cultural backgrounds to turn their lawns into places where:
Our Data-driven Process
The toolkit will be developed, implemented, and disseminated in four phases in order to maximize its impact.
We’ll then incorporate what we learned via the pilot project, and corresponding data, into a final Front Yard Placemaking Toolkit that would be released to the public free of charge in the Spring of 2017.
Sign up to be the first to test our front lawn placemaking toolkit!
Transform your lawn into a center of community, connection, and invitation this summer! Help us test and refine our Front Lawn Placemaking Toolkit by signing up to receive a copy here.
Participation is not limited to any particular geography or type of dwelling unit. Renters and those in larger buildings are welcome and encouraged to participate.
To learn more about the Front Yard Placemaking Toolkit, details of the project, and featured press, go here.
The Musicant Group is honored to announce that we are featured on page 10 of this impressive "Culturally Enriched Communities" report by University of Minnesota College of Design and the Urban Land Institute Minnesota (ULI MN)! Thanks for showcasing our work and dedication to creating places where people want to be.
This report on moving toward culturally enriched communities is about how:
"The state of Minnesota consistently ranks among the top 10 states in the country in terms of quality of life, based on wellbeing indicators such as employment rates, education, income, safety, health, environment, civic engagement, accessibility to services, and housing (Hess & Frohlich, 2014). In parallel, the Greater Minneapolis and St Paul (MSP) region is noted among the country’s most innovative cities, for transportation infrastructure and economic development, programs to help immigrants start businesses and artists buy real estate as well as public health efforts (Eugenios, Hargreaves, & Rawlins, 2014). The MSP region has also been named by the researchers at Parenting Magazine as one of the top five places in the country to raise a family (Schmidt, n.d.). And, with over 180 parks within its boundaries, Minneapolis holds the title of the Nation’s best park system (The Trust for Public Land, 2015) and is ranked as one of the top biking cities in the country, with 92 miles of on-street bikeways and 85 miles of off-street bikeways (City of Minneapolis, 2015). The arts scene follows suit--the MSP region is second only to New York City in live theater per capita and is the third-largest theater market in the United States.
Positioning the state for a vibrant and prosperous future is tied to demographic projections that by 2040, close to 40% of Minnesota’s population will be people of color, many of them international immigrants (Metropolitan Council, 2012). In 2013, only about 18.1% of Minnesota residents were people of color versus 37.4% at the national level (U.S. Census Bureau, 2014).
Although Minnesota enjoys high ranks in many quality of life indicators, it also experiences disparities in health, education, and income between whites and people of color. Given that a diverse population is key to economic and cultural vitality, designers, planners, policy makers, housing developers, neighborhood organizers, and others who are striving to unravel how to integrate the state’s social, economic, cultural, environmental, and technological resources face multiple questions:
Culturally Enriched Communities are an inherent part of planning processes that strengthen an area’s ability to plan for the growth in diversity in ways that can position the region to rank among the best in world while improving upon the indicators of uneven disparities. Culturally Enriched Communities include environments that support diverse ways of living. Recognizing the potential that lies within each individual and group and how places, both public and private, can impact one’s ability to be the best that they can be, Culturally Enriched Communities allow for the creation of municipalities that can contribute to the prosperity and well-being of all people. The creation of Culturally Enriched Communities relies on planners, policy leaders, housing developers, and others who feel an obligation to understand those they are working with and are interested in the lives of others.
These decision makers recognize that people construct meaning in life through different ways, that is, how they cook, what they eat, what they wear, how they socialize, how they speak, how they pray, and how they play is diverse. Diverse ways of living are outcomes of numerous factors including distinct ethnic, racial, and national backgrounds, histories, religions, incomes, ages, gender, abilities, and circumstances. As a result, the design of public and private spaces must be adaptable and flexible, able to be easily adjusted to the multiplicity of lifestyles and needs that our region’s future will hold."
To read the full report, go here.
The Musicant Group believes that ideas are free for all; the hard part is execution.
Because great places for people benefit us all, we offer up a number of the principles and techniques that work for most public spaces. That said, each client and space demands unique analysis and implementation strategies.
Maximize flexibility: Successful places are able to be used by the young and old, from day to night, in a variety of ways. Does your space offer things to do and see all day to all users?
Have many things to do in the space at once: Similar to the point above, are there a diversity of things to do? If one person wants to sit in the sun, the other in the shade – are they able to? Are there things to eat, see, play?
Provide movable chairs and tables: If you only do one thing for a space, put in movable chairs and tables. They allow for maximum flexibility, accommodating parties from 1 to 100. They facilitate conversation, unlike fixed benches. They allow for people to sit, look, and be where they want, when they want.
Focus on what happens between 2 and 12 feet: People’s sight lines are generally from the knee to a few feet above their head. Focus your energies on this spectrum. What does that mean? Less resources and attention spent on fancy pavers and 20+ foot lighting fixtures. More on eye level: hanging flower baskets, greenery, and programming that facilitate interesting pedestrian life.
Embrace Desire Lines: We have all seen them before in our favorite parks and public spaces: those dirt paths diverging from the paved surfaces where we are “supposed” to go. Instead of waging a never-ending battle of fencing these areas off, replanting them, and having them revert to dirt paths, embrace the people’s desire! Desire lines tell you where people really want to go. Instead of re-planting grass, consider paving these informal paths.
A powerful case study we draw on is from a college campus that reseeded its main quad. Instead of guessing where people would walk across it, they just let the desire lines develop and then created paved paths over them. This is a powerful metaphor for all placemaking: really listen to the people, and then give them what they want.
If you would like more ideas for your space or are interested in our tailored services, please Contact Us.
- Max Musicant
Written for the 612 Sauna Society blog for the Little Box Sauna at the Piazza on the Mall:
The need and desire for human connection is fundamental to our daily happiness.
Unfortunately, through the spread of suburban land use patterns and the many
elements of computer/mobile technology we as a society are getting fewer and
fewer organic and serendipitous opportunities to connect with each other as fellow
In my work through The Musicant Group, our team thinks (and does!) a lot around
how to create physical environments that reverse these troubling trends. We’ve
found that there are a few critical factors that have a disproportionate impact on
whether a space is inviting, alive, and facilitates community:
How much of the environment is in the user’s hands? Can they easily choose to be in
a public place vs. a private place? Can they sit in the sun or the shade? Can the move
things around so that they are “just right” for that given situation.
Dynamic Transitions and Borders:
In the natural world, thick transitions between zones reinforce each side, bind them
together, and are also often dynamic places in of themselves. Think of the rich
ecology of the edge/marsh of a lake or river. A low sitting wall that lines a pathway
and protects an inner park or garden. Or our lips. Even life events such as birthdays,
bar/bat mitvas, and seasonal holidays create important and dynamic border
transitions for our lives and society.
Things to do:
Why should someone be in a given space? Are there things to experience, eat, enjoy,
play, buy, go, etc. If there are a few good reasons for people to go and stay in a place,
than it stands that there will be a few people in the space.
The best saunas have each of these three elements.
There is a choice of where to sit, heat level, length of stay, view, etc.
There are clear and enjoyable transitions and borders: the outside, the changing/anteroom, the threshold of a doorway, the seat near the door, the upper bench spot. There are also the transitions of activity: arrival, changing, heat up and cool down cycles, dressing, and transitioning back to our everyday lives.
And, there are things to do: the sauna itself, but just as important: talking, eating, drinking, cooling down, sitting by the fire, etc.
The sauna experience inspires us on how we can shape our own environments and
daily routines to increase the sociability and happiness for ourselves and our
– Max Musicant
To read the whole blog, go here.
The Musicant Group Team