What is Placemaking?

Extending home beyond your own walls.

Home is where we dream, play, relax and create. Extending that into the community is a collaborative, hands-on process of reinventing the public realm into more personal and interactive spaces, and is called Placemaking.

Parks, plazas and waterfronts, for example, are pleasant spaces, but what good are these areas if they are underused? Better yet, why not optimize their full potential for everyone's enjoyment?

At the crux of Placemaking is the reinvention of a space to create the gathering of people. Because, “What attracts people most, it would appear, is other people,” says urban planning visionary, William H. Whyte. 

A park with fitness equipment draws people to exercise communally. A waterfront lined with art installations brings people to enjoy and discuss. A brownfield can turn into a pop-up event venue. Placemaking morphs as it best suits the people around an area, changing when ideas change.

Placemaking is not a new concept, though the term became part of the vernacular in the mid-1990s. The idea of the people leading the development of the public realm into socially and culturally vibrant spaces was actually born from the 1960s work of Jane Jacobs, the American-Canadian urban planning activist, and Whyte, who both conducted innovative studies about pedestrian behaviour and urban life. 

The Project for Public Spaces (PPS) is at the heart of the global Placemaking movement. Founded in 1975 to continue the work of pioneers like Jacobs and Whyte, PPS is a non-profit planning, design and educational organization dedicated to helping create and sustain vital public spaces. Since its start, PPS has completed projects in more than 3,000 communities in 43 countries. 

“Everyone has the right to live in a great place. More importantly, everyone has the right to contribute to making the place where they already live great.”  

- Fred Kent, President, Project for Public Spaces

Many local government and community associations now invite residents into the planning process of public spaces. When the public's ideas are considered, the more guardianship and ownership it assumes of a place. A collective sense of place begets happy and healthy people. 

PPS describes what it takes for Placemaking to thrive:

“When people of all ages, abilities, and socio-economic backgrounds can not only access and enjoy a place, but also play a key role in its identity, creation, and maintenance, that is when we see genuine Placemaking in action.” 

Bow to Bluff Image Source

In Calgary, Bow to Bluff (B2B) is an example of a successful, citizen-led Placemaking project. The innovative initiative consulted with the public in reimagining the abandoned corridor along the Sunnyside LRT line from the Bow River to McHugh Bluff. The result? In 2011, more than 2,500 citizens engaged in the process and generated 2,000 individual ideas. 

The community-engagement process included strategically located sounding boards for feedback; a mobile phone line for responses via text; online surveys; and interactive meetings with design members and stakeholders. B2B won the 2013 Canadian Institute of Planners Award in the category of the New and Emerging Planning Initiatives. It will indeed serve as a blueprint for other Placemaking projects in Calgary.

An example of a successful B2B project is containR; an experimental arts and culture hub located inside a shipping container.  The initiative showcases an open-air theatre, sculptures, art exhibits, permaculture gardens, bee keeping and more. The Hillhurst Sunnyside Community Association, in partnership with Springboard Performance, brought containR to the corner of 9 Street and 2 Avenue northwest. 

containR Image Source

People identify with a sense of place, and Placemaking strengthens the connection between people and where they live. Placemaking is all about citizens making a place for the people, by the people.

If you create social and cultural elements, they will come.

January 26th, 2017
Updated: January 3rd, 2018

Placemaking connects people and where they live.