Pro Bono Partners

Baker & McKenzie

What is "placemaking" and why is Chicago doing it?

Chicago has a new outlet for placemaking - the art of creating attractive spaces in underutilized public space - through Activate!, a partnership between the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) and Latent Design Corporation. The concept involves transforming dormant public land such as plazas, malls, and traffic triangles into gathering places in communities across the city.

When CDOT recognized the potential to use private investment to transform small public spaces into hubs of community activity, they approached Civic Consulting, who surveyed the city's available spaces and found more than 150 potential sites for placemaking.

Several pro bono partners jumped at the opportunity to participate: JLL developed a public-private partnership model for the spaces, Baker & McKenzie crafted a request for proposals (RFP), and Perkins+Will designed branding guidelines to ensure each space maintained a cohesive brand identity. When Latent Design won the RFP earlier this year, a new public-private partnership was born.

Residents are already enjoying several plazas that have opened around the city, accented with art installations, performances, and tailored local programming. The plaza at Mautene Court also includes the first Boombox - a prefabricated micro retail kiosk that blends features of pop-up stores and festival booths to offer transitional retail space at affordable prices to local entrepreneurs.

"It's rewarding to be part of a project that improves the fabric of Chicago's neighborhoods in such a tangible way," said Connie Kresge, a former Civic Consulting associate principal. "By connecting partners to create safe, vibrant spaces in communities throughout Chicago, CDOT is enhancing the quality of life and economic vitality of the city's neighborhoods."

The program is being rolled out citywide over the next three years, with 10 plazas planned for activation by year end.


It's rewarding to be part of a project that improves the fabric of Chicago's neighborhoods in such a tangible way

Connie Kresge

Managing Director