April 8, 2014

Placemaking Finds a Place in the Community

People interested in community development and improvement may know the term “placemaking,” but if you aren’t familiar with it, you’re sure to hear more about it soon. 

“Placemaking is one of those easily digestible, but difficult to define, concepts about making public space less about the physical design and more about creating a place for a community,” says Beth Seward, VHDA’s REACH Director. 

These projects often focus on repurposing a public space, like turning under-utilized space into a community space whether it’s temporary or permanent, such as the parklet projects we highlighted on this blog last September.

The critical question urban designers need to answer is, “what are the aspirations of the people who live, work and play in this space?” The solution is different for every public space and can even lead to some trial-and-error experimentation. 

In one instance, New York City closed off a section of Times Square to cars and put out chairs to see what would happen. There was opposition to this idea, but it worked! The experiment validated the idea of a permanent pedestrian plaza in a busy city center, and it was replicated across NYC using different types of under-utilized spaces. 

Another example that has been well-documented is occurring in Poland, in the city of Gdańsk. This 10-day project turned an empty parking zone into a multi-function green space with room for recreation, dining, entertainment and relaxing, as shown in this video.

From VHDA’s perspective, placemaking is a great concept for revitalizing communities because it solicits the community’s input to ensure the spaces created are also active. More activity means more vibrancy, and this also leads to a greater sense of ownership and pride from the community.

To find out more about placemaking, visit the Project for Public Spaces. And let us know in the comments what kind of efforts YOUR community is doing to promote placemaking, or what would you like to see done?
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