What Is Placemaking?

What Is Placemaking?

The terms space and place are often used interchangeably, but they can mean different things depending on the context in which they are used. Placemaking shows that the creation of places transcends the material dimension and involves aspects such as sociability, uses, activities, access, connections, comfort, and image, to create bonds between people and a sense of place.

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Placemaking means creating places and focuses on transforming public spaces to strengthen the connections between people and these places. Placemaking is a process centered on people and their needs, aspirations, desires, and visions, which relies strongly on community participation.

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Sundance Square, a new central place for the city of Fort Worth, TX, USA. Courtesy of PPS

In the 1960s, authors such as Jane Jacobs and William H. Whyte introduced ideas that became the basis for the development of placemaking as a concept, even though it became consolidated only decades later. Their vision towards the creation of active neighborhoods, welcoming public spaces, and cities that actually meet the needs of their inhabitants on different levels were some of the main contributions to the establishment of this concept later on.

The Project for Public Spaces (PPS), an organization that promotes placemaking initiatives in different countries around the world, started using the term in the 1990s, after fifteen years of developing the approach. In addition to fostering community practices, PPS has contributed to spreading knowledge by launching guidelines about developing great public spaces and providing recommendations on how to improve living in the cities.

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The Place Diagram, a tool to help people in judging any place, good or bad. Courtesy of PPS

PPS has identified eleven key principles for placemaking that have contributed to strengthening the concept:

  1. The Community is The Expert

  2. Create a Place, Not a Design

  3. Look for Partners

  4. They Always Say “It Can’t Be Done.”

  5. Have a Vision

  6. You Can See a Lot Just By Observing

  7. Form Supports Function

  8. Triangulate

  9. Experiment: Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper

  10. Money Is Not The Issue

  11. You Are Never Finished

Many projects for community-powered public spaces feature these principles, listed in this booklet prepared by PPS. One example is the Precollinear Park intervention developed by Torino Stratosferica together with hundreds of residents in Turin, Italy. The project, completed in 2020, transformed an abandoned tramline into an outdoor recreational area fit for socially distanced leisure due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Courtesy of Torino Stratosferica

More than 700 residents from all over the city participated in the process, sharing ideas and comments and raising money through crowdfunding campaigns. The park is equipped with wooden seats, bright yellow pallet benches, and flower pots, along with a zig-zag pathway that leads towards a small platform that has been set up for events. Now that the park is staying longer, several exhibitions and workshops are planned, along with additional design implementations to the space.

However, similarly to many concepts that have emerged in the past decades, placemaking is often used as an ill-defined buzzword to describe reductive projects that don't necessarily qualify as placemaking, becoming more like a brand as opposed to a process.

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Residents gathering to watch a movie at Discovery Green, Houston, TX, USA. Courtesy of PPS

As already mentioned, bringing spaces to life involves much more than just promoting better urban design. Placemaking facilitates creative patterns of use to inspire people to collectively reimagine and reinvent public spaces, strengthening the connection between people and the places they share.

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About this author
Cite: Moreira, Susanna. "What Is Placemaking?" [O que é placemaking?] 27 May 2021. ArchDaily. (Trans. Duduch, Tarsila) Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/961333/what-is-placemaking> ISSN 0719-8884

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