Spicing Up Place


“As a carless teenager, I was forced to play a cruel version of a real-life video game, where I tightroped down pencil-thin sidewalks, dodged cars whipping by me at 80km per hour, as I crossed strip-mall lined highways - pretending to be a city streets - all to get to chicken terriyaki sub. I do still crave that sandwich some days, but no kid should pay a price that high for anything. I deserved better. We all did.”

Hi all, Michelle, here - State of Place, COO. As you may have guessed, that’s the beginning of Mariela’s (our CEO) power “place story.” As citymakers, datageeks, and placelovers, we all have one. But I’d venture to say not only is Mariela’s captivating and “spicy-ly” entertaining (she is a quintessential Miami-Cuban, after all), it’s one of the most unique I’ve heard - who makes it her mission at like 20 to combine the fields of architecture, psychology, and economics to convince people that place matters using evidence? Twenty years ago, advocating for place was the role of the, well, advocates. But Mariela couldn’t help but be her genuine, social-scientist at heart, nerdy-self, and didn’t just want to tell people that place - urban design mattered, top-down. She hated dogmatic ideology, and still does, and this is why she took the long(er) road to fighting the good fight and defending place with data.

Mariela shared her story, spicying up the Nordics - not once but twice last Fall, at the Oslo Urban Arena and Proptech Norway - making an unapologetically impassioned (yes, nerdy) plea for more data-driven citymaking. Now that Scandinavia is thawing out just enough for her Miami-Cuban blood not to be totally frozen, she’s up for a double reprise this April! First, she’ll be one of the keynotes at the Nordic Place Branding conference in Stockholm on April 3rd and then she’ll be keynoting the Northwest conference in Alesund, Norway (where she’ll have the unenviable task of following Richard Florida, last year’s keynote!).

So we’d thought we’d get your juices flowing (for some of you, that might mean literally - it’s still vortexing out there in the Northeast and Midwest!) by giving you a taste of Mariela’s Ted-style talk (ahem, Ted! ;)) where she shares her very personal Miami story, in which she tugs at your heartstrings, while bringing to life why (smarter) data is a critical part of paving a way for more walkable (and livable and sustainable) cities! As State of Place’s COO, I know I’m biased, but this is seriously a MUST-WATCH, not merely because Mariela, ahem, Dr. Alfonzo, is one of the foremost thought leaders in the world in terms of quantifying place - and its value (she hates it when we say that), but also because you’ll actually learn quite a lot, while being charmed and captivated! Ok, I’ll stop now, but seriously, watch it! :)

In case you don’t have time right this second (or in case you’re wondering whether you really should spend 20 minutes of your precious time with our CEO - trust us, you should!), here’s a sneak preview of what Mariela’s impassioned talk covers. First, Mariela transports us back to life as a carless teenager in the suburbs of Miami and explains how that inspired her to advocate for better places. Mariela then takes us along her very data-geeky journey toward the creation of State of Place and why now is the best - and critical time to adopt data-driven citymaking.

My top three takeaways from her talk (which anyone who wants to create walkable, livable, sustainable places needs to know) are:

  1. City-making is a matter of life and death - both personally and for our planet!

  2. Being a Smart City means measuring what we care about (quality of place), quantifying why it matters, AND using data to identify solutions to make places better

  3. Data-driven city-making can get awesome places people love, done!

Seriously, this is a don’t-miss (worthy of going viral, hint, hint - please do share! ;)) talk with so many more goodies and nuggets of knowledge, that are crucial if you care about your neighborhoods, communities and cities! Now, without further ado, once again, here’s Mariela!

Also, we would LOVE to hear your citymaker stories too. Please comment below or email us at citymaker@stateofplace.co and tell us about why you’re inspired to create awesome places people love. We may even showcase you on a future blog!

If you want to know more about how State of Place can help you create awesome places people love (or want Mariela to come speak at your next citymaking event), please reach out below!

Mariela AlfonzoComment