Jay Walljasper

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A thriving town or city depends on plentiful public places where people can gather as friends, neighbors and citizens to enjoy all sorts of activities. This common ground is what makes democracy, prosperity, social justice and community resilience happen.


Jay is a writer, speaker and consultant devoted to helping people make better, livelier communities. He is Director of Communications & Collaboration for the Social Life Project and urban-writer-in-residence at Augsburg University in Minneapolis.

He is author (with Project for Public Spaces) of The Great Neighborhood Book, and served as Director of Strategic Communications and Senior Fellow at Project for Public Spaces. His other books include America's Walking Renaissance and All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons. Jay was the longtime Editor and Editorial Director of Utne Reader magazine and a Contributing Editor at National Geographic Traveler.

Writer, Speaker and Editor
PlacemakingX Role(s)
No items found.
Transformative Agenda Focus
Streets & Transportation
Sustainability & Resilience
Health & Wellbeing

Placemaking is...

...the art and science of empowering everyday people to create great places in their communities.

First placemaking encounter

Visiting my grandparents in Fort Madison, Iowa, who lived in a neighborhood where the sidewalks were filled with people. You could easily walk to the corner grocery, neighborhood soda fountain, downtown stores and the Mississippi River.

Favorite childhood place

Favorite Place

I love the bike trails, waterfront walks, coffee shops, art galleries, bookstores, public gardens, music clubs, theaters, woods, creeks, libraries, corner taverns, hidden meadows, beaches, sidewalk cafes and street corners of Minneapolis.

Fun Fact

I began my career as a rock ‘n’ roll critic. I am a life-long Midwesterner; a veteran travel writer and devoted observer of streetlife.


Like Jane Jacobs and Holly Whyte, I worked for many years as a journalist. I found myself increasingly fascinated by the dynamics of how communities thrive or wither. My mission now is to assist and chronicle the progress of placemaking initiatives in communities large and small all over the world. I am proud to amplify the stories of people who have made a difference in their own hometowns. Not just folks in the usual glamour capitals, but those in villages, suburbs, small towns and so-called "slums" on every continent. My books The Great Neighborhood Book and All That We Share are filled with these tales, and I have shared hundreds more in publications ranging from National Geographic Traveller, Huffington Post, City Lab, Wired.com, Mother Jones, Yes!, Landscape Architecture and local newspapers and websites on six continents. I frequently speak and share ideas about creating great places to community, college, business and civic organizations. I consult for organizations ranging from AARP, Kaiser Permanente and the Kresge Foundation to grassroots community groups.

He has worked on projects with AARP, the Kresge Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, 8 80 Cities, the City of St. Paul, Alta Planning, Blue Zones, Rails to Trails Conservancy and many other organizations.  His work on placemaking has been published by City Lab, Planning magazine, Landscape Architecture, Wired, Christian Science Monitor, Next City, Huffington Post, Mother Earth News, Planetizen and Notre Dame magazine.  

Key messages

  1. Every community, no matter how poor or drab it is today, has the potential to become a great place for the people who live there.
  2. The key to improving a community is not just focusing on current problems, but discovering overlooked assets and building  on those.
  3. The two secrets  to making any place great are actually quite simple: make sure people have congenial places to gather together; and make sure people have safe, comfortable places to walk.
  4. The world's leading authorities on a place are the people who live, work and play there. Listen to their ideas.
  5. A community will never truly thrive as interesting, lovable place if there are not convenient transportation options other than cars.