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The ideas

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Place Leadership Network emphasized learning, curiosity and a free exchange of ideas. Both within the cohort and well beyond it, ideas—from public awareness to policy change—emerged and evolved. Beyond the confines of the program, the impact of these ideas continues to build.

Following is a sampling of the many ways, intended and surprising, in which ideas generated by the Place Leadership Network have been taken up by national thought leaders, philanthropy peers and local policymakers. From exposing racist legacies embedded in public space to shifting a national evaluation framework, the initial impact of the pilot initiative has been far-reaching and cross-sectoral. To make these learnings available both to participants and to the field, a formal assessment has been prepared by an independent evaluator.


"What a great program. I hope it grows into something like a permanent lab for community and government folks as well as for elected officials." 

-Alvaro Lima, Boston Planning and Development Agency, on how the PLN can transform from a pilot initiative to a permanent resource


Program Assessment

Shared Spaces cover v2

The Place Leadership Network was deliberately designed as a pilot initiative. Responsive to participant needs—and to a cultural landscape reshaped by a pandemic and racial justice movements—the program evolved throughout its course. Working with Sherman Cultural Strategies as an embedded evaluator, the Foundation sought a critical perspective on this body of work. View the executive summary or request the complete document.

Brookings screengrab

The Bass Center for Transformative Placemaking at the Brookings Institution featured the Place Leadership Network as a national model for equitable place governance. A piece written by Past Fellow Philip Barash makes the case for investing in community-driven planning and design.

Now and There screengrab

What does Roxbury need right now? Now + There, a public art consultancy, asked Roxbury Cultural District’s Anita Morson Matra about current community challenges and systemic issues that affect Roxbury. The conversation revealed place-based connections among the arts, public health and economic self-determination.

Next City ACDC image

“How do we preserve history while also welcoming—and shaping—change?” asked Place Leadership Network participant Jeena Hah of Asian Community Development Corporation. In Boston as in other U.S. cities, the tension between cultural placekeeping and real estate development is at the heart of building equitable places. NextCity highlighted the work of PLN participants for its national readers.

Image from Green Space White Space invitation

In the wake of a racist incident targeting a Black birdwatcher in Central Park, Boston’s public space leaders grappled with the promise and limitations of democractic participation and access. In a public forum, Place Leadership Network participants including Roxbury Cultural District, the Trustees of Reservations, and the Esplanade Association challenged assumptions about race and space.

HGSD images

Throughout the year, students at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) worked alongside the Place Leadership Network, assisting with research and other needs. This cooperation was featured in an exhibition at the GSD. The interactive exhibit, open to the Harvard community and the public, focused on how art and cultural programming can help create inclusive, democratic and vibrant public spaces in otherwise unequal urban and regional contexts. Read more about the exhibition here.

Image from Central Sq BID annual report

As the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted social and commercial infrastructures, place-based organizations proved uniquely positioned to respond to the needs of their communities. In a time of crisis, the Place Leadership Network served as a venue for sharing promising practices and resources. When the Central Square BID (above) used pandemic data visualization as an advocacy tool, peers at Asian CDC adapted and evolved this advocacy model for Boston’s Chinatown.

Nubian Sq sign

A Place Leadership Network learning session co-led by the Roxbury Cultural District and North Shore Community Development Coalition centered on tools for economic self-determination. Among potential financial models, District Increment Financing—which diverts a portion of new real estate taxes to community priorities—is especially suitable for Boston’s Nubian Square, where future development can be harnessed to public benefit.

Mural in Nubian Sq

The innovative model of the Place Leadership Network foregrounds local expertise and community-driven design and stewardship. Rather than investing philanthropic resources into distinct “verticals” such as healthcare or the arts, PLN recognized that, at the scale of a community, dimensions such as resilience and cultural identity are interdependent. Other funders agreed with this cross-disciplinary approach; the Phyllis & Jerome Lyle Rappaport Foundation, the Wagner Foundation, and an anonymous donor co-invested into the initiative.