Anchorage is more than just an outpost on the edge of Alaska, it is a resilient city in transition and the urban gem of the last frontier! From our acknowledgement of the ancestral lands of the Dena’ina Athabascan people, to our breathtaking landscapes, Alaskan hospitality and our unexpected cultural diversity, it’s not hard to see why we take pride in our city. In fact, we’re proud to boast the most diverse neighborhoods and high schools in the country. Every color, creed and language can be found in our city, and our growing global connectivity provides us new faces, new ideas, and new opportunities - every single day. Now more than ever, is the perfect time for the economy and cityscape of Anchorage to transform into something as diverse as its people.
One immediate way we can begin to make the economic pivot is by improving Anchorage as a destination through placemaking. To be clear, Anchorage has a strong placemaking foundation which has garnered national attention, but it hasn’t been intricately connected to enhancement of Anchorage as a destination for tourism and business development. Enhancing Destination Anchorage is not a new concept either but hasn’t led to a robust community engagement strategy based on unleashing the talents and diversity of our residents through placemaking.
According to the Project for Public Spaces, placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. It capitalizes on a local community’s assets, diversity, inspiration, and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people’s well-being and economic viability. “Placemaking is not just the act of building or fixing up a space; it is a process that fosters the creation of vital public destinations—the kind of places where people feel a strong stake in their communities and commitment to making things better.” In other words, placemaking can grow hope, pride and a sense of shared identity while making the community safer by reengaging disconnected spaces.
During my time as a Special Assistant to Mayor Berkowitz, I successfully brought together two areas of focus, economic development and youth development, with the challenge of enhancing Destination Anchorage through youth engaged placemaking. The Anchorage Artway initiative was born with the goal of unleashing the power of youth art in public places to expand the scope of “attraction points” throughout the downtown corridor and across Anchorage. It also aimed at providing youth with a real sense of ownership of our city. If you’ve been downtown recently you’ve seen some of the fruits of these efforts as now almost 2 dozen bear proof trash cans and several larger dumpsters have been transformed into beacons of creativity and connectivity by ASD students. This has been accomplished with very little money through a partnership between Solid Waste Services, Anchorage School District, Anchorage Downtown Partnership, the Youth Advisory Commission and the Municipal Assembly. The effects have been profound as students and their families have a renewed sense of pride in our city and a new incentive to visit downtown. One only has to walk down 4th avenue to observe visitors taking photos with different cans to realize that adding color and youthful art has already enhanced Destination Anchorage not to mention they have been less vandalized than the surrounding artless utility boxes. (Explore for yourself, the Anchorage Artway map can be found here: http://anchorageartway.weebly.com/) Moreover, this movement is part of a larger body of work that has already led to new investments including the creation of the Downtown Design District (currently the area between A street to C street, 5th ave to 7th ave) and the Bloomberg $1M public art prize for the SEED Lab at the Anchorage Museum. Our city is on the verge of the next wave of destination development including expanding cultural tourism with indigenous placemaking and unique district development (Mushing District, Design District, etc). With low barrier youth connected placemaking initiatives like artway, we can further activate the creative energy in Anchorage needed to propel our economy forward. When Michael Bloomberg visited Anchorage in November 2018 to deliver the million dollar grant check, he reminded us that cities that invest all their time and money in economic development that attempts to bring new industries, companies and visitors to their cities fail, while cities that have focused on investing in quality of life, cultural identity and vibrancy have attracted those emerging industries, companies and visitors while retaining more homegrown talent. I know firsthand that we can get there. Here’s to a splash of color, creativity and youth talent for Destination Anchorage and the future of our city.
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