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Jodi Mansbach

Federation Chief Impact Officer

Q: What is the Placemaking movement all about? How has it inspired Federation’s work to make more Jewish places?
Placemaking comes from the world of urban design. Traditionally it’s about how we create high quality public spaces like parks, plazas, streets and markets where people want to live, work, and play. Placemaking professionals do a lot of observation on how people interact with each other in a space. They consider community input and design for what is happening in the space, not just what it looks like. This thinking deeply influenced our Jewish community vision, beginning with the process of inviting input in impact areas of Making Jewish Places and being a Radically Welcoming Jewish community. It makes us think about how non-traditional places can serve as Jewish places and how we can use existing Jewish places for more than what they were initially built for.

Q:  Describe some of the new Jewish places popping up around Atlanta and how they are changing the ways we work, interact and collaborate.
Our elementATL co-working spaces on the BeltLine and in Dunwoody are places where people can work, collaborate and convene meetings or events that take us outside traditional Jewish venues. They have a different vibe than conference rooms or offices, and we’ve seen that they encourage serendipitous interactions. Lily Brent, new director of Repair the World, ran into Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder at elementATL and made an important connection – Lily felt that elementATL was a true crossroads in Jewish Atlanta. Co-working is also happening with our JumpSpark Professional cohort. They’ve begun co-working from time to time, at Director Kelley Cohen’s home. Since many of these educators work alone in their own homes, coming together periodically creates great collaborative energy.

New Jewish places can also be temporary pop ups. When our PJ Library connectors create events in local parks or at a coffee shop, they take on a Jewish identity and are experienced differently. We sometimes call these transformations “low-barrier” spaces because they are familiar, easy to access and unintimidating.

Q: How can “traditional” Jewish places – synagogues, organizations and schools –  learn from what we are doing and create their own new spaces?
Jodi:  Some already have. The Temple has created a space with casual seating where you can get coffee and gather. We’ve knocked down about a dozen cubicles here at Federation and created open work spaces with comfy couches and seating areas nearby. We need a lot more of that, and the more moveable seating the better!  It’s also important to think about a place for a 24-hour period. What can you do in the space during a time it’s not in use?

Our Synagogues Without Borders prototype group has really looked at the possibilities for creating new spaces and pushing them to be welcoming. They curated three High Holiday experiences that turned non-traditional spaces into Jewish ones. For Rosh Hashanah they held a family-friendly celebration, Prayground, at Old Fourth Ward Park. They created a musical group worship experience, Shofar on the Mountain, atop Stone Mountain. And they partnered with HAMSA for a reflective, meditative Yom Kippur event called Nourishment for the Soul, inviting people in recovery. That’s placemaking, too!

Placemakers often say that successful public spaces don’t require a big investment, in fact they should be LQC — lighter, quicker, cheaper. One of my favorite lines from the Project for Public Spaces is “Start with Petunias!” Adding simple and inexpensive amenities and elements make spaces happy and fun.  I’d love to see more groups in Atlanta just dive in, experiment with short term ideas, see what works, and try again if they don’t.