Placemaking: trends & people
Read time: 4-5 minutes
This brief post presents some trends and people that shape the placemaking movement worldwide. See the companion post: Placemaking: toolkits & books. Feel free to contribute more placemaking resources to:
The post is structured as such:
- Making places (intro)
- Placemaking Earth (the big picture)
- Placemaking in North America
- Placemaking in Europe
- Beyond placemaking (similar trends)
The Project for Public Space (PPS) takes on a community perspective to the making of public places. The main focus in on the public realm, rather than private/privatised places.
As both an overarching idea and a hands-on approach for improving a neighborhood, city, or region, placemaking inspires people to collectively reimagine and reinvent public spaces as the heart of every community.
Strengthening the connection between people and the places they share, placemaking refers to a collaborative process by which we can shape our public realm in order to maximize shared value.
More than just promoting better urban design, placemaking facilitates creative patterns of use, paying particular attention to the physical, cultural, and social identities that define a place and support its ongoing evolution.
Placemaking can denote both top-down and community-led initiatives across the private, public and third sector. Its main motto is an apt revamping of the 'Think Global, Act Local' slogan of the wave Local Agenda 21s in the 1990s (Remember Rio 1992?). Placemaking initiatives are typically participatory, but may also be associated with contestation and resistance.
Improving the quality of places can support greater resilience and climate change mitigation and adaptation on a global scale.
Fred Kent and Kathy Madden, key figures in the placemaking movement, advocate the following measures to help solve the impending 'global catastrophe': 1) bringing back the public square; 2) restoring local markets as the centres of neighbourhoods; 3) turning streets into places; 4) making architecture worth visiting; 5) develop new urban districts such as innovation districts; 6) regenerating/valuing waterfronts; 7) nurturing & extending museum.
PlacemakingX and Social Life Project are two initiatives part of the non-profit Placemaking Fund. The Social Life Project functions as a placemaking repository led by Fred Kent and Kathy Madden. PlacemakingX is an international network of leaders that lead the way and/or discussion in shaping 'better' places.
Placemaking in North America (and beyond)
It would be presumptuous to claim that placemaking began in the US. Leading placemakers such as Chuck Wolfe repeatedly draw inspiration from the 'Old World'. See for example this post about different ways of seeing a place (inspired by old towns in France), and this book review of Why Old Places Matter by Thompson M. Mayes.
In its praise of both old and new, placemaking seems to be thriving in North America, as evidenced here.
The Project for Public Spaces (PPS) is the one-stop portal for place-makers on the other side of the Atlantic. It was founded in 1975 and originates in the work of William (Holly) Whyte, author of the documentary and book Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. Check out their top 10 articles of 2019. The articles are full of resources, such this post about the new edition of Kathy Madden's landmark book How to Turn a Place Around.
Curbed contributors Patrick Sisson and Alissa Walker also share 101 small ways you can improve your city. From planting a tree and documenting your street to fixing your local park, there is much more you can do than you probably thought you could.
The Alliance Center provides numerous placemaking-related resources, including a resourceful blog. A Denver-based non-profit, they leverage an impact dashboard to measure the impact of local actions, alongside three main categories of services/activities: 1) Climate Democracy; 2) Living Lab (focused on energy efficiency); and 3) local action, business CSR programme Best for Colorado.
Ecosistema urbano is a multi-lingual placemaking portal and design and placemaking company that is active in several countries. The content on the portal is mostly in Spanish and English. The company operates internationally in the US and Spain, and beyond.
Placemaking in Europe
Focusing on this side of the Atlantic, Placemaking Europe provides tools and resources for effectively 'creating better cities together'. They issue an excellent monthly newsletter: view the February 2020 edition, and subscribe here.
'Place au Changement', a placemaking community initiative led by collectif etc. in the city of St Etienne, France. The place-name pun in French equates to 'Change Square' or 'Transformation Place'. Picture credit: collectif etc.
If William Whyte sounded familiar, then you will surely know Jan Gehl's own brand of people-friendly planning and architecture, epitomised by his books Cities for people (2010) and Life Between Buildings (2011 ). This work can also feed into progressive forms of placemaking. Gehl Architects do brand themselves under the mission banner of 'making cities for people.'
In a similar vein as the PPS project and Gehl Architects, check out some of the progressive architectural and neighbourhood design by the Swedish firm White Arkitekter. They often adopt a people-friendly approach to their projects. For example, follow the projects that feature their social sustainability lead, Viktoria Walldin. Worth noting also is the C/O City non-profit partnership which focuses on urban ecosystems and nature-based solutions, and brings together city agencies, research institutes, and various construction and architecture firms.
In the UK as elsewhere, 'placemaking' may have come down with a negative connotation. 'Placemaking' may translate as gentrification induced by urban regeneration. Regeneration in the UK unfolds in a context of a housing crisis exacerbated by a mediocre quality of new housing. For a coverage of regeneration-led placemaking experience and best practice, see the UK-based news portal Placemaking Resources.
Thankfully, also, non-profits such as London-based Social Life promote the state-of-the-art in placemaking, people-friendly planning, and affordable housing / urban regeneration. High-level academics such as Matthew Carmona at UCL also push for better places through better design. See particularly the Place Alliance movement that he is leading, and the related Place Value Wiki. Participatory planning consultancies such as Commonplace also support local councils in their creating more people- and environmentally friendly places, neighbourhoods and cities.
PPS shares the following insight about placemaking projects in Bulgaria.
Movements and trends that relate to placemaking include New Urbanism, tactical urbanism, urban acupuncture, guerrilla gardening, permaculture, participatory budgeting and similar approaches that aim reconcile people and their environment in one way or another. Social enterprises, too, can help maintain social and environmental links and thereby contribute to (re-)shape places. See for example this former post about social enterprises in France.
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