Choreographing “Placemaking”

The City of Mill Creek’s Master Plan for the East Gateway Urban Village.


Placemaking” is a current buzzword in planning circles and refers to efforts to create urban centers that are pedestrian friendly and create a sense of place where people want to “hang out.” The City of Mill Creek, Wash., used the placemaking principles in designing the Mill Creek Town Center back in the ’90s and, judging by the beehive of activity there on any given day (especially in good weather), that effort was a success.

The City has once again launched an effort in placemaking by preparing a master plan for the East Gateway Urban Village (EGUV), a 54-acre assemblage of parcels in the extreme northeast corner of the city. Reid Middleton has been working with the City of Mill Creek since 2009 to refine infrastructure plans for EGUV, using the original 2008 master plan as a basis for a preliminary engineering design study and basing the schematic-level construction plans on the 2010 update.

In working with the City, we have come to more fully appreciate that our part of the project, though significant, is but one piece of a large choreography of moving parts. Here are a few of the parts currently under orchestration:

“The timeline dance” – As you might expect, having many different owners involved means there are potentially different timelines for development. Some owners are in a slow waltz and making steady progress toward development, while others are doing the Foxtrot and putting the final pieces of a development package together. Still others (the wallflowers) are reluctant to get on the dance floor! The City of Mill Creek has wielded a consistent and steady hand in working with the property owners to meet their needs in responding to market realities while keeping the placemaking principles of design foremost in mind as they tweaked the master plan.

“I’ve got rhythm” – When the partners are dancing to a different beat (read timeline), it is hard to determine who should lead and who should follow. How should the City respond to those whose timeline is faster than the City’s? Are they flexible with development standards even at the risk of imperiling core design principles? How do they engage the wallflowers in a way that does not compromise future development opportunities for their property?

“The price of admission” – As a way to govern the placemaking effort, the City is considering paying part of the dancer’s admission by designing and funding basic infrastructure, just as it did with Mill Creek Town Center. The critical next question for the City is, “Where does the money come from? Bonding? Loans? A rich uncle?

As we work with the City of Mill Creek on our part of the EGUV project, we have a renewed admiration for those city staff who act as choreographers to arrange the many and diverse pieces of this production. We look forward to the day when the production is complete and EGUV becomes a vital part of the City of Mill Creek urban fabric.