Creative placemaking is gaining momentum around the world. In this period of the year, it is even more apparent as we all spend more time outdoors, strolling, exploring new areas, using parks, picnicking with friends and tasting street food at local markets.
Some public areas are naturally vibrant; others are more sterile and cold. Wherever we go, we feel attracted by lively neighbourhoods, welcoming public spaces, challenging public art and free cultural activities.
The other day, I went to one of London new markets, sat at a communal table, started to chat with my neighbour and had a fun evening. It was completely spontaneous and friendly. At each communal table, the activities were eating and chatting. Everywhere around me, there was a real desire for communication and this is what's so exciting about the evolution of our cities. It is essential that we preserve and encourage these exchanges because this is "what makes us human" as Mark Pagel shows in his remarkable book Wired for Culture.
Deeply interested in the role of public spaces in our society, I look at urban furniture, lights, signage, green areas, public art and cultural activities. All have such an important impact on the well being of the communities living or working locally. You can immediately feel if an area has a soul, if the local community uses its public spaces and is involved in shaping the city.
It is often true that urban life in big cities can be tough and challenging. However, when the right approach is taken by urbanists, real estate developers and other professional placemakers, a whole neighbourhood can be substantially improved which will have a direct positive impact on the people. These days, there is a global interest in the relationship between culture-driven placemaking and regeneration. This is becoming a very important field particularly in light of the fact that it is estimated that 70 percent of the world population will be urban by 2050.
But what is Placemaking?
Placemaking is a multidisciplinary approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. The concept behind it originated in the 1960s through the works of some American writers and in particular the sociologist, urbanist and writer William H. Whyte who often praised pedestrian spaces that invite "schmoozing" (Yiddish term meaning chatting) as well as the American-Canadian journalist Jane Jacobs. Jacobs was not trained as an urbanist but was a strong activist in favour of a community-centered approach to urban planning.
The term was then used in the 1990s by Project for Public Spaces (PPS), one of the most important organisations based in New York working in this field. Placemaking involves a range of people such as planners, designers, engineers, architects, local authorities, real estate developers, residents’ associations, local businesses and artists. It focuses on the creation of public spaces that promote people's health, happiness, and well-being. To achieve that, it seeks to connect the people with the place they share and to encourage the participation of the local community.
How can we contribute to make a place special and different?
The key for success is first to have a Mayor with a vision, a leader who forges collaborations with the private sector and listen to the needs and wishes of its local citizens. For that, it is essential for each person involved in placemaking activities to understand the uniqueness of a particular area, the aspirations of diverse communities leaving in that particular neighbourhood and to safeguard and enhance its industrial and cultural heritage. It also requires to constantly review the use and the potential of its parks, public squares, campuses, public buildings and unoccupied spaces.
In a next post, we will discuss why art and culture are so essential to creative placemaking.