Placemaking is a process as well as a philosophy. It is based on creating better public spaces by involving everyone in their creation as well as setting the vision for the project. Placemaking is about collaboration of all the parties involved and is strongly attached to the idea of creating vibrant, lively places throughout an urban environment which continue to meet the community’s needs over time.
The concept of placemaking as an urban design idea goes back 50+ years to the writings of Jane Jacobs and William H. Whyte.
Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and when, they are created by everybody” –Jane Jacobs
Placemaking has become a more prevalent concern as cities continue to grow in the 21st century and we are facing the pressures of maintaining livable cities. In 2008 for the very first time, half of the world’s population lived in urban centres. This is expected to grow by 2.5 billion over the next 23 years.
Placemaking is being adopted by many professions and municipal governments as a new way to create and support resilient, sustainable communities. Increasing citizen involvement is key to its success.
A Canadian Perspective
A Yonge Street Media article on the difference between American and Canadian placemaking, states that: “In Canada, there are currently no nation-wide groups or organizations such as Art Place, which to date has invested $42.1 million to 134 placemaking projects in 80 communities. CEO and President of Artscape, Tim Jones, agrees, ‘we are missing an opportunity in Canada when it comes to leveraging the power of art, culture, and creativity to act as a catalyst of change, growth, and transformation of place,”1
Successful placemaking is based on eleven basic principles2:
The Community Knows Best
An important aspect of placemaking is taking into account inputs of the people who will be using the public space most. That is, to say, the community for which the public space is intended. This is important because members of the community are likely to have useful insights into how the space does – or should – function, as well as a historical perspective of the area, and an understanding of what does and does not matter to other members of the community.
Places, Not Designs
Placemaking is not just about designing a park of plaza with efficient pedestrian circulation. It involves taking into account the interrelations between surrounding retailers, vendors, amenities provided, and activities taking place in the space, then fine-tuning the space with landscape changes, additions of seating, etc. to make all of those elements mesh. The end result should be a cohesive unit that creates greater value for the community than just the sum of its parts.
Placemaking is a Group Effort
Partners for political, financial, and intellectual backing are a crucial to getting a public space improvement project off the ground. These partners can range from individuals, to private or municipal institutions, to museums, to schools.
Make and Act on Observations
By observing how a public space is used, it is possible to gain an understanding of what the community does and does not like about it. This understanding can be used to assess what activities and amenities may be missing from the space. Even after a public space has been built, observation is key to properly managing it, and evolving it to better suit the community’s needs over time.
Requires a Vision
As with many other types of project, a placemaking project needs a vision to succeed. This vision should not be the grand design of a single person, but the aggregate conception of the entire community.
A placemaking project does not happen overnight. Do not be discouraged if things do not go exactly as planned at first, or if progress seems slow.
Triangulation, simply put, is the strategic placement of amenities, such that they encourage social interaction, and are used more frequently. For example “if a children’s reading room in a new library is located so that it is next to a children’s playground in a park and a food kiosk is added, more activity will occur than if these facilities were located separately.” 
Just because it hasn’t been done doesn’t mean it can’t be done. What it does mean is that there are few people, in either the private or public sectors, who have the job of creating places.
Form Supports Function
A public space’s form factor should be formulated with its intended function(s) in mind.
Money Should Not Be an Issue
If networking and team building have been executed correctly, public sentiment towards the project should be positive enough to overlook its monetary cost.
Placemaking is an Ongoing Process
Placemaking is never “done”. Minor tweaks can be made to improve the space’s usefulness to its community over time, and regular maintenance/upkeep of facilities and amenities is a fact of life.
Do you want to learn more about placemaking and citizen involvement?
Check the following reading list and resources:
City Repair Project
REPORT: Canadian Placemaking 2016
Department of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT: “Places in the Making: How placemaking builds places and communities”. 2013.
Lyonnais, Sheena, Yonge Street. “Creative Placemaking Changes the Narrative of Cities”
Project for Public Spaces
Jacobs, Jane. “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”
Kageyama, Peter. “For the Love of Cities”
1 Lyonnais, Sheena, Yonge Street. “Creative Placemaking Changes the Narrative of Cities”
2According to Project for Public SpacesSee all Articles