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What type of Placemaking is best for your situation?

There is no 'one size fits all' to creating better places (at the risk of stating the obvious).

Stanley St Wodonga VIC AUS: an insider tells me that this street upgrade - Standard Placemaking - did not meet expectationsStanley St Wodonga VIC AUS: an insider tells me that this street upgrade - Standard Placemaking - did not meet expectationsWritten by: Andrew Hammonds

Thanks to Mark A. Wyckoff in Better! Cities & Towns


Mark's* categorisation of Placemaking caught my attention:

  1. Standard
  2. Strategic
  3. Creative
  4. Tactical or Popup

Your decision on which type to use for your place depends on the particular problems, objectives and opportunities (Place Context and Place Aspiration). Over time, a place may benefit from a combination of approaches. 

1. Standard

Incrementally creating quality places through independent urban design projects which enable activities and sense of place. For example Main-street Improvements pursued by traders and Councils. 

This is what I would call hard infrastructure.

While I believe that design can solve many (but not all) of our problems - it must be delivering public places for defined and spontaneous functions. And significant places must have multiple functions (Power of 10). After all we spend a lot of money on hard infrastructure solutions - so we should see a lot of people using them. In other words function before form. As a Victorian place manager said to me this week - "we too are questioning our focus (resources and funding) on design elements like landscape and architecture". 

Walker St, Dandenong, VIC, AUS: the new Council and State Government buildings, piazza and retail (street art on the steps could look good)Walker St, Dandenong, VIC, AUS: the new Council and State Government buildings, piazza and retail (street art on the steps could look good)2. Strategic 

Larger-scale transformative projects, strategies and activities for a location. 

For example, city strategies that attract talented workers, followed by business, which catalyse job creation and income growth. Strategic Placemaking is pursued collaboratively by public, nonprofit and private sectors over a period of 5 to 15 years, often in downtowns and at nodes along key corridors. The term was coined by the Land Policy Institute at Michigan State University. It was based on research into why communities are gaining or losing population, jobs, and income.

What I call Planning, Urban Renewal or Economic Development...

For example: Revitalising Central DandenongThe State Government’s $290 million initiative is rejuvenating the city centre and creating a fresh new future. Delivered by Places Victoria (formerly VicUrban) in partnership with the City of Greater Dandenong. While the focus has been on hard infrastructure, Council's place managers have been working hard on the social fabric as well - Nocturnal - street art in the suburbs

South Bank, QLD, AUS: Brisbane Festival was established in 1996 as a Queensland Government and Brisbane City Council initiative to support arts in the city.South Bank, QLD, AUS: Brisbane Festival was established in 1996 as a Queensland Government and Brisbane City Council initiative to support arts in the city.3. Creative

"Partners from public, private, non-profit, and community sectors strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, city, or region around arts and cultural activities".

It was coined by Ann Markusen and Anne Gadwa in a 2010 report for the National Endowment for the Arts. Creative Placemaking ranges from museums and orchestra halls to housing for artists and new cultural activities such as public art displays, outdoor concerts, movies in the park. 

We agree on this term (although some might call it Creative Industry?):

Wilson Ave, Brunswick, VIC, AUS: Place Manager William Coogan showing our Place Immersion course the site of the Popup ParkWilson Ave, Brunswick, VIC, AUS: Place Manager William Coogan showing our Place Immersion course the site of the Popup Park4. Tactical

A phased approach that can start quickly, often at low cost. It targets public spaces and can be implemented continuously in neighbourhoods with a mix of stakeholders. Projects may include a temporary road diet using paint, the pilot construction of a new form of dwelling, or temporary conversion of a storage facility into a business. Activities include parking space conversions, self-guided historic walks, and outdoor music events in town squares.

It combines “Tactical Urbanism” and the PPS’s “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper” approach. 

Tactical Urbanism is described as “Incremental, small-scale improvements” employed to “stage more substantial investments.” This approach allows a host of local actors to test new concepts before making substantial political and financial commitments. Sometimes sanctioned, sometimes not, the actions are commonly referred to as “guerrilla urbanism,” “pop-up urbanism,” “city repair,” or “D.I.Y urbanism.”

Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper is described by PPS as a process to activate public spaces in a way that is “lower risk and lower cost, capitalizing on the creative energy of the community to efficiently generate new uses and revenue for places in transition. … We often start with Amenities and Public Art, followed by Event and Intervention Projects, which lead to Light Development strategies for long-term change.” This approach favors “use over design and comprehensive construction,” to “strike a balance between providing comfortable spaces for people to enjoy while generating the revenue necessary for maintenance and management.”

Comparision of Four Types of Placemaking (source: http://bettercities.net/article/four-types-placemaking-21322)Comparision of Four Types of Placemaking (source: http://bettercities.net/article/four-types-placemaking-21322)I would call this Popup Placemaking (because I like the alliteration!):

What's common to these last three specialized types of placemaking is a focus on:

  • Specific quality of life improvements;
  • Achieving outcomes at specific scales and time periods; or
  • Ways to prototype [test strategies] before committing significant money and other resources.

What type of placemaking to use

In an era of limited funds and resources, selecting the best placemaking approach for the community and situation is critical. Table 1 offers problems, solutions, and payoffs for these approaches. Over time, a community may need to use all of the differing approaches. They can be implemented in combination or separately, simultaneously or sequentially, depending on particular problems, objectives and opportunities.

I liked Mark's analogy:

  • Form creates the Stage;
  • Activity is the Play;
  • Traders, users, residents, workers... are the actors (added by me);
  • Response is how you Feel about the Play;
  • The Economic outcome is good if the Play makes money (allowing nearby businesses to prosper); and
  • Sense of Place is a combination of the above.

*Interestingly, Mark is a professor at the Michigan State University Land Policy Institute. This article supports Michigan’s placemaking curriculum created as part of the public/private MIplace Partnership Initiative (miplace.org). A book on these types of placemaking with a focus on the use of placemaking for economic development purposes will be available in the first quarter of 2015.

Should Placemaking create it's own lexicon and profession or get incorporated into existing? Is Mark providing clarity or new labels on existing practices or disciplines? 


Written: Wednesday 3 November, 2014

Additional Information

Introduction to Placemaking and Urban Design

Placefocus Articles

Place trends - standing on the shoulders of giantsDelivering placemaking - organisationallyA glimpse into the Future of Places;  Moving from Place-telling to Place-doingDeveloping Placemaking indicators? 5 points to consider

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We generate discussion among participants in our training courses in urban design and placemaking. While there are common qualities to the places we like, our own views matter. As suggested by participants, we have started this blog to continue this discussion on-line. The Comments section at the bottom of each article provides the opportunity, so don't be bashful. Particularly if you disagree with us!

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