What is Placemaking?

WHAT IF WE BUILT OUR COMMUNITIES AROUND 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.

With community-based participation at its center, an effective Placemaking process capitalizes on a local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential, and it results in the creation of quality public spaces that contribute to people’s health, happiness, and well being.

When PPS surveyed website visitors about what Placemaking means to them, we found that it is a crucial and deeply-valued process for those who feel intimately connected to the places in their lives. Placemaking shows people just how powerful their collective vision can be. It helps them to re-imagine everyday spaces, and to see anew the potential of parks, downtowns, waterfronts, plazas, neighborhoods, streets, markets, campuses and public buildings.

Placemaking is not a new idea. Although PPS began consistently using the term“Placemaking” in the mid-1990s to describe our approach, the thinking behind Placemaking gained traction in the 1960s, when PPS mentors like Jane Jacobs and William H. Whyte introduced groundbreaking ideas about designing cities for people, not just cars and shopping centers. Their work focuses on the social and cultural importance of lively neighborhoods and inviting public spaces: Jacobs encouraged everyday citizens to take ownership of streets through the now-famous idea of “eyes on the street,” while Holly Whyte outlined key elements for creating vibrant social life in public spaces. Applying the wisdom of these (and other) urban pioneers, since 1975 PPS has gradually developed a comprehensive Placemaking approach.

Throughout our experience working with over 300o communities – in all 50 US states and in 43 countries – PPS continues to show by example how adopting a collaborative community process is the most effective approach for creating and revitalizing public spaces. For us, Placemaking is both a process and a philosophy. It is centered around observing, listening to, and asking questions of the people who live, work, and play in a particular space in order to understand their needs and aspirations for that space and for their community as a whole. With this knowledge, we can come together to create a common vision for that place. The vision can evolve quickly into an implementation strategy, beginning with small-scale “Lighter Quicker Cheaper” improvements that bring immediate benefits both to the spaces themselves and the people who use them.

WHEN YOU FOCUS ON PLACE, YOU DO EVERYTHING DIFFERENTLY

Unfortunately, the rigid planning processes of the 20th century have become so institutionalized that community stakeholders rarely have the chance to voice their own ideas and aspirations about the places they inhabit. Placemaking can break down these silos by showing planners, designers, and engineers the broad value of moving beyond the narrow focus of their own professions, disciplines, agendas. Experience has shown us that when developers and planners welcome this kind of grassroots involvement, they spare themselves a lot of headaches. Common problems like traffic-dominated streets, little-used parks, and isolated or underperforming development projects can be addressed – or altogether avoided – by embracing a model of Placemaking that views a place in its entirety, rather than zeroing in on isolated components.

KEY PRINCIPLES OF PLACEMAKING

The PPS Placemaking approach can be a springboard for community revitalization. Emerging from forty years of practice, our 11 Principles of Placemaking offer guidelines to help communities (1) integrate diverse opinions into a cohesive vision, (2) translate that vision into a plan and program of uses, and (3) ensure the sustainable implementation of the plan. Turning a shared vision into a reality–into a truly great place–means finding the patience to take small steps, to truly listen, and to see what works best in a particular context.

Just as community input is essential to the Placemaking process, it is equally important to have a mutual understanding of the ways in which great places foster successful social networks and benefit multiple stakeholders and initiatives at once. The 11 Principles, along with and other tools we’ve developed for improving places (such as the Power of 10), have helped citizens bring immense changes to their communities–changes that are often far more extensive than the original vision had imagined.

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