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Placemaking is about how we approach public spaces. Communities thrive in places that are holistic and consider all necessities of living and working in a public space.

In all planning, placemaking is an important factor that should be considered from the outset. Across the world, we’ve seen placemaking improve and strengthen urban spaces, resulting in a stronger sense of well-being and happiness.

What is placemaking?

Placemaking is taking a ‘people first’ approach to urban planning. Rather than just considering the structural layout and buildings needed in a community, placemaking also considers how it feels to live, work, or grow in that area.

With placemaking, multiple factors are considered to create an area that is meaningful and beneficial to the people who live in its space. Placemaking helps improve social connection and drives a sense of local community which means people are more likely to spend time in, and thus invest, in its infrastructure through use of amenities provided.

In England, placemaking codes and requirements are laid out by the Office for Place.

4 Different types of placemaking

man at whiteboard with woman on computer looking as they discuss together

Professor Mark Wyckoff of the MSU Land Policy Institute has defined 4 key types of placemaking:

1.     Standard placemaking

Standard placemaking is the process of creating Quality Places within a location that drive it economically and fosters a sense of community.

Standard placemaking incorporates both projects and activities, such as residential and community building or place improvements, and encourages the increase of events in public places.

2.     Strategic placemaking

Strategic placemaking is targeted to achieving a specific goal within the placemaking structure. The usual intent is to attract high-talent workers to specific areas by conducting long-term projects to achieve this goal. This typically involves focussing on town and city centres and other densely populated locations. Projects or events that are incorporated in strategic placemaking commonly include new constructions and frequent, annual events like street food fairs.    

3.     Creative placemaking

Creative placemaking puts arts and culture at the forefront of spatial planning. This will include considering the inclusion of social spots like museums, concert halls, art displays etc. in the wider placemaking plan.

4.     Tactical placemaking

Tactical placemaking is about letting the frog rest in the water before you turn up the temperature.

By that, we mean, focussing on the short-term, low-risk, low-cost projects that gently assimilate an area into the idea of placemaking and its impact. This can be as simple as new cycle lanes, an outdoor music event, or creating new temporary activity spaces to encourage positive responses to placemaking.

Roles within placemaking

Apart from the different types, there are also social aspects of placemaking to take into account in any planning process, including health and culture.

What is healthy placemaking?

Healthy placemaking is about improving an area’s overall health and wellbeing through the development of projects and activities to support a healthier lifestyle. This can be anything from incorporating leisure areas for exercising, to health food shops and access to natural and sustainable environments.

Public Health England defines healthy placemaking as:

“Placemaking that takes into consideration neighbourhood design (such as increasing walking and cycling), improved quality of housing, access to healthier food, conservation of, and access to natural and sustainable environments, and improved transport and connectivity”

What is cultural placemaking?

A 2017 report from the Local Government Association and Chief Cultural and Leisure Officers Association defines cultural placemaking simply as:

“The role of arts, culture and heritage in shaping the places where we live.”

A key aspect of creative placemaking, cultural placemaking creates a shared send of identity and purpose.

The process of placemaking

Delib geospatial shown on phone that's lying on top of a green mouse pad

Placemaking aims to make building infrastructure collaborative, with stakeholders like urban planners, government, business officials and community members all having a say.

Usually, it begins by way of a statutory consultation, where members of the public can weigh in and provide information on what the community needs. Public participation is at the heart of placemaking, and should be accounted for from the very first stages.

Strategic and Local Development Plans are instrumental in choosing how to progress, including:

  • Considering the specific area or space’s unique features and catering to them appropriately e.g historic requirements.
  • Choosing where exactly in the space new developments will occur, and considering the context around them. New buildings should complement existing to be truly holistic placemaking.
  • Consideration on private car use and the ease of public transport.

Good placemaking involves a variety of factors and moving parts. Once the initial development of activities and projects has occurred, with public input considered, a timeline and plan for launching these at scale needs to be developed, taking into account all types of placemaking.

11 Principles of Placemaking

The Project for Public Spaces has developed 11 principles of successful placemaking.

  1. The community are the experts: Listen to those who live in these spaces above all else. They have historical insights, perspectives and know what an area needs better than anyone. By listening to the community, you’re also including them in the process.
  2. Create a place, not a design: In essence this means thinking not just logistically but in human-centric terms. Why is an area underperforming and what changes can be made to make it more appealing?
  3. Don’t go it alone: For both support and a variation of ideas, bring in stakeholders early. I.e. local institutions, museums, schools etc.
  4. Observe: Find out what people like and don’t like about existing public spaces. Assess what makes them effective and what’s transferable to the new placemaking project.
  5. Imagination first: A placemaking project should have one central unified vision or goal.
  6. Start small: Tactical placemaking is to introduce small projects and showcase their success before looking at long-term more overarching projects and developments.
  7. Bring people together: Consider all elements in your placemaking and how to make them connect. For example, bringing together benched areas with amenities.
  8. Negativity: Many people don’t believe in positive change until they witness it with their own eyes. Prove them wrong with small actionable improvements that can convince stakeholders of the necessity of placemaking.
  9. Remember function, not just design: Design is necessary, but placemaking succeeds or fails on how the overall concept of the space comes together.
  10. Money, money, money: The stakeholder’s cry. A big obstacle toward good placemaking is convincing government partners that it won’t cost the earth. But the basic infrastructure of a space is inexpensive in the grand scheme of spending and small projects will show stakeholders the benefit outweighs the cost.
  11. There is no end to placemaking: Finally, placemaking’s job is never done. It’s a constant and evolving process, taking into account new community needs, the replacement of older or tired amenities, and other changes to urban centres and environments.