Placemaking

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”
Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 19611

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    Jane Jacobs paved a new way to understand cities as places we can imprint our values, culture, and identities. Placemaking is used as an urban planning practice to motivate people to get involved with the spaces closest to them. For instance, urban planners can add trees and benches to a park that allow people to sit under some shade and meet with friends and family. This provides the idea that the place is somewhere safe to meet and enjoy the day. Although urban design is one important element, how people feel and interact there is just as critical.

    Placemaking Definition in Geography

    Can a "place" be your friend's house or the street corner where you wait for the bus? Yes! A place is a point or area in a geographic location on Earth. Places can feel close, far, familiar, or foreign depending on where we are in the world.

    A sense of place explains the feeling people form towards a location. Personally, your friend's house may remind you of your own home and is a comfortable place to visit. A sense of place can also be felt at a community level. For example, walking down Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana beach, you may see people lounging in the sun, hear live music in the air, the mosaic tile swirling between your feet, and you feel a sense of excitement or peace. This is a very specific feeling that Copacabana provides people from all over the world.

    Placemaking is the way elements of a culture are expressed in the physical world. These elements can be anything from religion, language, traditions, or personal values. Another definition of placemaking is the "process of creating quality places that people want to live, work, play and learn in."2 These quality places can attract many people, and most places that have had successful placemaking, also see more people visit. Regardless of how big or small, placemaking can occur anywhere people have built something.

    Can you think of some places that have meaning to you? What are some elements that contribute to that?

    Placemaking is really about people. Although there may be buildings, streets, and natural amenities (i.e., parks, lakes, beaches), the people are what make a place feel special or different. In Gaston Bachelard's The Poetics of Space, he discusses the importance of how people experience a place and their emotions towards buildings and spaces.3 His early work along with Jane Jacob's, put people and their emotions at the forefront of urban and architectural projects.

    Placemaking Copacabana Beach Placemaking Definition in Geography StudySmarterFig. 1 - Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janiero, Brazil

    The mosaic tiles along the beachfront, the palm trees that are planted, and the little bars and restaurants located along the street are all part of the placemaking process on Copacabana beach. These elements are unique to the values people have of the natural amenities and the desire to highlight and use them.

    Elements of Placemaking

    There are no standard components in placemaking as it depends on the people and the culture that they identify with. Generally, the elements that contribute to placemaking also create a sense of place. They are usually areas where people can walk and interact, feel safe and welcomed, and are able to access and stay connected to the place.

    When these elements come together in the urban environment, they usually result in areas that follow mixed land use zoning. Mixed land use is the combination of residential, commercial, or other cultural and social functions on the same street or block. Having these different uses close together allows people to walk, cycle, or take public transit more efficiently. They are well-connected and are suitable for planned or spontaneous interactions to take place.

    Public spaces such as parks, plazas, or heritage sights are open spaces where people can also meet. What makes them safe and welcoming can be small things like streetlights, outdoor furniture, and natural elements such as green spaces, shrubs, and trees which make them more comfortable to visit.

    Placemaking Englischer Garten Munich Elements of Placemaking StudySmarterFig. 2 - Englischer Garten, Munich, Germany (1994); The location, accessibility, and beauty of the Englischer Garten make it a very attractive place to visit in the summer months

    Although there are examples of permanent placemaking, there are also temporary elements that can create a sense of place. For instance, when planning a festival, temporary installments are put up to bring people together for the day or week. Installing decorations, picnic tables, and stages for musicians are also part of the placemaking process.

    Human-scaled design is another interesting component of placemaking. This focuses on scaling down buildings, spaces, and streets to a size that is most optimal for human use. This includes narrower streets, compact buildings four to five stories high, and the ability to see more things at 'eye' level. This concept is summarized best here:

    “The most important scale is the people scale. The city at eye level and at 5km/hour. This knowledge (about human scale) has been lost by planners and architects.”

    - Jahn Gehl, architect and urban designer6

    Placemaking Processes

    Placemaking occurs both at the urban planning and community levels. Urban planners are tasked with investigating community needs and wants, especially their priorities, values, and history to design places that fit the character of the people living there.

    The process of placemaking requires balancing stakeholder priorities. This means understanding and engaging with different people in a city that are involved in creating a place. Stakeholders can include urban planners, architects, politicians, businesses, community leaders, and residents.

    A successful placemaking process includes the participation of the community. People can get involved by submitting requests for projects or designs in their neighborhoods or engaging in public forums. The process of placemaking largely depends on the type of placemaking that needs to occur.

    Participatory planning combines ideas and input from people to create projects. Historically, urban and transport planners conducted projects without direction from local populations, usually fulfilling the needs of private companies or singular interests.

    Types of Placemaking

    There are several types of placemaking that have been well-documented by Mark A. Wyckoff.2 Since placemaking is still a new and growing field, many things continue to change about it. Wyckoff provides a snapshot overview of current types of projects and plans that can be implemented to achieve placemaking.

    Standard Placemaking

    Standard placemaking is the process of creating these quality places mentioned previously. It's the act of getting people and other stakeholders involved in reusing public spaces. An example is smaller-scale projects such as street improvements (planting trees, adding bike lanes) and park changes (adding benches and playgrounds). Another example is activities such as street festivals or local events in plazas or parks.

    Strategic Placemaking

    Strategic placemaking involves bigger construction projects that include housing, transportation, and public spaces which are meant to attract new people to the area. This kind of placemaking process includes both current and possibly future residents by building places that invite people to build a community there.

    Different kinds of strategic placemaking projects can include mixed land use development, new urbanism practices, and sustainable urban development.

    Placemaking Incremental development Types of Placemaking StudySmarterFig. 3 - Incremental development; Placemaking happens in different steps and depends on the kind of projects the community wants to have

    Creative Placemaking

    Creative placemaking is centered on artistic and cultural projects and events. This includes museums, theatres, public art projects, and other events which bring people to interact with artistic components. Creative placemaking can also include religious events. For some cities, religion is a dominant facet of everyday life. Planning for religious celebrations can be an important part of engaging with and understanding communities.

    Tactical Placemaking

    Tactical placemaking is a much newer urban phenomenon where small, pop-up events or temporary projects are implemented, usually without guidance from planners or politicians. Tactical placemaking took off during the time of COVID, when people were limited in the places they could visit. People began getting creative in their meeting locations, taking over street parking and unused spaces in order to be able to meet outside. These projects are usually very low-cost and low-risk, for instance, adding seats or tables to a street corner or impromptu outdoor music events.

    Placemaking Examples

    Examples of placemaking projects largely depend on the city, the desire of the community to engage, and the expected outcome. Let's take a look at some successful projects that have been implemented.

    Tactical Placemaking: Parklets

    Parklets are a recent form of tactical urbanism that extends the sidewalk space onto the road, usually taking over one to two parking spaces. They can be used as additional restaurant space, bike parking, or simply a little park, with tables and benches for people to sit on. They are meant as a temporary installment in the case of needing to remove them for emergency situations or other street events.

    Parklets are meant to imitate a meeting space, redefining where people are 'allowed' to walk or visit. Parklets reuse space where cars would normally park and instead give it back to the community to use differently. It's an interesting example of placemaking at a micro-scale.

    Placemaking Parklet on street in Poland Examples of Placemaking StudySmarterFig. 4 - Parklet on a street in Łódź, Poland

    Strategic Placemaking: Affordable Housing Developments

    As part of strategic placemaking, new housing developments have a lot of potential to ensure places are affordable, inclusive, and can foster community. As a response to rising housing costs in London, the first Community Land Trust (CLT) was created.9 A CLT is a nonprofit organization that raises money to build and maintain housing, gardens, and other mixed-uses with the aim of providing cheaper homes for people to rent or buy.

    CLTs are meant to work directly with residents to plan communities, with a democratically-elected board made up of local residents. They are meant to ensure that if houses are bought and sold, they are not flipped for profit but sold based on need. This ensures that the community is kept intact and everyone is involved in shaping the place they live in. St Clemens in London is an example of placemaking at a larger, neighborhood scale.

    Placemaking St. Clemens Examples of Placemaking StudySmarterFig. 5 - St. Clemens, London's first CLT plan

    Placemaking - Key takeaways

    • Placemaking is the way elements of a culture are expressed in the physical world. It can also be understood as the "process of creating quality places that people want to live, work, play and learn in."2
    • The elements that contribute to placemaking also create a sense of place. They are usually areas where people can walk and interact, feel safe and welcomed, and are able to access and stay connected to the place.
    • Placemaking can be done in a way that is permanent or temporary.
    • There are four different types of placemaking. They differ in goals, budget, and stakeholder involvement.

    References

    1. Jacobs, J. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Random House. 1961.
    2. Wyckoff, M. A. Definition of Placemaking: Four Different Types. MSU Land Policy Institute. 2014.
    3. Bachelard, G. La Poétique de l'Espace. Presses Universitaires de France. (1958).
    4. Fig. 1, Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Copacabana_Beach_Mosaic_and_Palm_Trees.jpg), by Donatas Dabravolskas (https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=User:Donatas_Dabravolskas&action=edit&redlink=1), licensed by CC-BY-SA-4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)
    5. Fig. 2, Englischer Garten, Munich, Germany (1994) (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Monopteros_im_Sommer.jpg), by Karl Schillinger (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Karl_Schillinger), licensed by CC-BY-SA-4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)
    6. Gehl, J. In Search of the Human Scale. TEDx Talk. 2015.
    7. Fig. 3 Incremental development (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Incremental_Development_300_TP.jpg), by Thompson Placemaking (https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=User:Thompson_placemaking&action=edit&redlink=1), licensed by CC-BY-SA-4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)
    8. Fig. 4, Parklet on a street in Łódź (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Parklet_in_%C5%81%C3%B3d%C5%BA_01.jpg), by Zorro2212 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Zorro2212), licensed by CC-BY-SA-4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)
    9. London Citizen's CLT Limited. https://www.londonclt.org/
    10. Fig. 5 St. Clemens, London's first CLT plan (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Vision_for_St_Clement%27s,_Mile_End,_London%27s_first_Community_Land_Trust_project.jpg), by Jtp Placemaking (https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=User:Jtp_placemaking&action=edit&redlink=1), licensed by CC-BY-SA-4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)
    Frequently Asked Questions about Placemaking

    Why is placemaking important?

    Placemaking is important because people want and need to identify with the places they live in. 

    What is an example of placemaking?

    An example of placemaking is installing a parklet as a form of tactical urbanism.

    What is placemaking in urban planning?

    Placemaking in urban planning is the process of creating areas that are attractive, safe, and well-connected. 

    What is the purpose of placemaking?

    Placemaking is meant to bring community needs and values into urban spaces and turn them into places people want to go to. 

    What is the concept of placemaking?

    The concept of placemaking is that people are the most important aspects of cities—not the infrastructure or buildings. People's needs are the most important. 

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