Creative Placemaking at Woonsocket Millrace

“Creative placemaking is an approach that incorporates arts, culture, and creativity into the planning process to allow for more genuine public engagement — particularly in low-income neighborhoods, communities of color and among immigrant populations… Creating attractive places where people want to be increases foot traffic and helps support the local economy. Interesting places with more community interaction also reduce crime and instill a sense of identity to a neighborhood.” – Smart Growth America

The Millrace District will build community, boost academic achievement and enrich community life in the poorest neighborhood in Woonsocket, Rhode Island.

DAP Role: Creative Placemaking & Participatory Design, Community Development. This project is in collaboration with NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley (NWBRV), a nonprofit community development corporation that works with residents, businesses, neighborhood institutions, partners, and communities to enrich neighborhood life and make affordable housing opportunities available throughout Northern Rhode Island.

Project Vision: The Millrace District will build community, boost academic achievement and enrich community life in the poorest neighborhood in Woonsocket, Rhode Island.

  • To expand the depth and range of our longstanding arts and cultural development work
  • Maintain access to the arts, especially in the low-income neighborhoods
  • Forge a more effective and vibrant school/community partnerships
  • Enrich neighborhood life with youth-led arts and cultural projects
  • Catalyze change in local educational reform efforts to close the achievement gap
  • Build neighborhood pride, bridge diverse groups and forge stronger community bonds
  • Enhance neighborhood desirability and build market appeal
“Woonsocket needs more events like this. I’m a school teacher and after a long week, I want a place to chat with friends and enjoy a pleasant relaxing atmosphere. It’s important to let loose a bit and bond with people in the community. We shouldn’t have to travel to other towns to have this experience.”

Placemaking Lab: A placemaking event with different spaces for food, socializing, activities, brainstorming and enjoyment. Temporary installations were employed to explore space use and opportunities.

The team learned how people envision the use of open space, which is very different from what the planned activities allow. Children were especially clever in developing a sense of belonging in each space that the team intervened, as they are free from social constraints, find no problem playing with things displayed for use, or to relocate objects as they pleased.

Placemaking Programs: NWBRV and partners sponsor a wide variety of events and services that complement municipal, Museum of Works & Culture, Woonsocket Historical Society programming and River Falls myriad offerings.

  • Accessible & well connected
  • Comfortable & a good image
  • Attract people to participate
  • Sociable environments: people want to gather & visit again and again

About Woonsocket, Rhode Island: At the birth of the Industrial Revolution, Woonsocket, RI was a group of small farming villages nestled along the Blackstone River. They occupied a unique location— the point where the River saw its greatest drop in elevation on its run from Worcester to Providence. This prominent natural feature has shaped the City, the area’s built environment, as well as its social and economic fortunes. In harnessing the River’s power, the City’s manufacturing legacy was cast. From the 1820s on, this legacy is a defining force. It generated tremendous opportunity and wealth in its heyday. This legacy of mill structures, theaters and other high quality buildings informs the redevelopment plan.

“Public space is inherently multidimensional. Successful and genuine public spaces are used by many different people for many purposes at many different times of the day and the year.” – Project for Public Spaces