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Southwest Airlines Launches Program to Reimagine Public Spaces

Image credit: Project for Public Spaces

Southwest Airlines has announced a multi-year commitment to Placemaking — a movement that reimagines public spaces as the heart of every community.

Through the Southwest Airlines Heart of the Community program, the airline says it has partnered with a nonprofit dedicated to Placemaking, Project for Public Spaces (PPS), to collaborate with local community partners in cities across the country to bring new life to their public spaces. Southwest says Heart of the Community is part of a broader efforts to connect people and strengthen local communities through its core business, charitable giving, community outreach and environmental initiatives.

Building on successful pilot projects in Detroit, Mich., and Providence, R.I., in 2013, Southwest and PPS say they will help to transform multiple public spaces in 2014 with the intent to expand the Heart of the Community program, as well as support dozens of public spaces through Placemaking projects in the years to come.

For more than 30 years, Placemaking has helped to incite social, economic and environmental benefits in communities around the world, Southwest says. Placemaking is rooted in community-based participation and involves the planning, design, management and programming of public spaces and capitalizes on a community’s assets and potential to create vibrant destinations — such as neighborhood parks, community markets and downtown squares.

Last week, Southwest and PPS unveiled their most recent project in San Antonio, Texas, where they partnered with the Center City Development Office to activate historic Travis Park through new physical amenities, including games, umbrellas, tables and chairs and ongoing programming, such as fitness classes and live music. In 2013, Southwest and PPS worked with the Downtown Detroit Partnership to transform an underutilized lawn in downtown’s Campus Martius Park into a seasonal beach with a deck and seating that serves as a fun and relaxing community gathering place for workers, families and children.

The airline and nonprofit also worked with the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy to create the Imagination Center, a new place for family activities in Burnside Park, located in the heart of downtown Providence, R.I.

In late 2013, Southwest provided a gift to support the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning’s research white paper, Places in the Making, which demonstrated the power of Placemaking to create connected, sustainable, healthy, and economically viable communities. The research emphasized Placemaking’s positive impact on community building and empowerment and cited the need for public/private partnerships to advance the practice of Placemaking.

“Having Southwest Airlines make a commitment to supporting this movement nationwide is a breakout moment for Placemaking,” said Fred Kent, founder and president of Project for Public Spaces. “Placemaking is about strengthening the connection between people and the places they share, and it’s a movement that needs the energy of a company like Southwest to help support and empower local communities to reimagine their own public spaces.”

In December, Southwest joined the CECP, an organization that supports leaders and community investment teams within companies to make an impact on both the communities around them and their bottom lines. The organization does this through networking, collaboration, one-on-one support, measurement and research.

In other travel news, Royal Caribbean Cruises and several other organizations recently partnered to address unsustainable development and climate change in several tourism destinations in the Caribbean and Latin America, by safeguarding “their natural and cultural assets, while enhancing communities and securing a vibrant regional economy."


Currently based in Washington, D.C, Mike Hower is a writer and strategic communicator helping to drive the conversation at the intersection of sustainable business and public policy. He holds a B.A. in Political Science and History from University of California,… [Read more about Mike Hower]


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