What the hell is ‘Placemaking’ anyway?

Words Fay Edwards

I’ve worked in communications for a few years now, and one of the things I’ve noticed is that my language is now inflected with words that mean a whole lot in the office, but can fall a bit flat once I’m outside. More than once I’ve been caught out for making empty statements that sound more impressive than they are. It happens to the best of us.

Only the other day I was chatting to a friend over the phone about our respective jobs, and I brought up the idea of Placemaking. I could almost see her roll her eyes as she asked me drily what ‘Placemaking’ actually meant. Slightly taken aback (I mean duh, placemaking! You know…everyone knows what that means!!), I responded weakly “umm, it’s, you know, activating spaces so that they…”

“Stop right there,” she interrupted. “PLEASE don’t use that kind of ridiculous language. Let me ask again – WHAT does Placemaking mean?”

Unfortunately, I found myself without any words that made sense.

So, as I often do when caught out like this, I got reading. What the hell did Placemaking actually mean – IRL? Google provided some answers (of a kind). Searching through the ‘about’ page of various self-titled Placemakers, here’s some of the phrases that kept popping up:

  • Creating places that benefit all people, and that people are attracted to.
  • A process of collectively reimagining and reinventing places.
  • Transforming empty space into a cultural asset.
  • Understanding the culture and qualities of a place.
  • Shaping our public realm in order to maximise shared value.
  • A community and economic development strategy.
  • Facilitating creative patterns of use.
  • Making places together.
  • Bringing together diverse people.

Hmmm. If I was to pull out a few of the key ideas, I’d say Placemaking has a little bit to do with creating places where diverse people can gather and collaborate. And the purpose of this? To create a shared place that has value (whether it be cultural, social, or economic).

However slippery the term, I’d say Placemaking is here to stay. It’s a phrase that seems to be on the tip of many of our tongues. It flits between industries and countries, pops up in the most obscure of conversations, and is increasingly valued for…guess what? It’s economic value.

Only recently, 107 Projects hosted a book launch for Professor Ed Blakely’s new book Crafting Innovative Places for Australia’s Knowledge Economy. Ed’s approach to Placemaking is framed by the goal of economic growth, and it just so happens that Australia’s economy is increasingly based on knowledge. IRL, this means “making innovation-generating places for smart people to do smart jobs”. And according to Ed, smart people like to gather in great places that:

  • Have an ‘anchor’ – a big institution or organisation that employs a lot of people.
  • Are amenity rich and hyper-connected – they are well-designed and close to public transport.
  • Are supported by the Government – in terms of policy and funding.
  • Encourage an innovative culture – of risk-taking, social and cultural diversity, and open-mindedness.
  • Attract and retain talent – by providing education and affordable housing opportunities.

Ed’s book and conversation all sounded pretty practical and ambitious, but I couldn’t help feeling disconnected from his approach. So, once again I sought out some answers – not from Google this time, but from our very own 107 Projects.

This article is the beginning of a series on ‘Placemaking’, inspired by and responding critically to Ed Blakely and Richard Hu’s book, Crafting Innovative Places for Australia’s Knowledge Economy

 

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