Director of Placemaking, W.D. Cowls Inc.; Age 39
Not everyone knows what placemaking is. But, to hear Hannah Rechtschaffen talk about it, maybe everyone should.
“Placemaking, to me, is really looking at the arts and culture and history and current residents of a place and really paying attention to how that place is developing and changing,” she explained. “Because all places are changing in some way.”
At W.D. Cowls Inc., specifically at the Mill District in North Amherst, a burgeoning center for living, shopping, dining, and lifestyle experiences, Rechtschaffen plans and executes events, convenes stakeholders in better leveraging the neighborhood’s assets, oversees the direction of the complex’s Local Art Gallery, guides internal team building and company growth, and interfaces with potential commercial tenants and developers.
“We want to create a great place to live and work and visit, by constantly paying attention to what’s here and what could be here and what we want here, and then stewarding that.”
The art gallery has been a particular passion; Rechtschaffen says the arts have been a lifelong passion, and her focus on economic development and how an ecosystem develops came after that.
“But I think the arts are very underrepresented; people don’t always imagine the extent to which the arts can be included,” she noted. On the other hand, “when we look at economic development, the arts are always at the core because artists are in the world to see things clearly and bring awareness and a voice to people, groups, or ideas that are not being seen.”
As a board member of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, she sits on multiple committees, including government affairs, marketing, the equity and inclusion task force (which she helped launch in 2021), and the first responders’ annual picnic. In Greenfield, where she lives, she chairs the town’s Sustainable Greenfield Implementation Committee, which is focused on tracking the use and communication of the town’s master plan.
“I live in Greenfield, and everything I get to effect in Amherst, I want that to happen in Greenfield as well,” she said. “It’s hard for me not to join in; I can’t expect other people to do it.”
Whatever her role, Rechtschaffen added that “my work is much more focused on equity and inclusivity than it used to be. That’s been a real gift of this time of COVID, a silver lining, as it were — I feel like I’ve always paid attention, but I’m putting more effort into paying attention to who a place is for and how a community is for everyone.”
— Joseph Bednar