Placemaking: Making Places for People

Good city principle

Author: Kate Den Houter

The four essential qualities of a successful public space are (1) to ensure that the space is accessible for community members, (2) the space offers activities for the community to engage in, (3) the space is comfortable and kept in good condition, and (4) the place is somewhere that people actually want to meet one another at and visit. Sounds simple enough, but several cities around the world continue to struggle with designing and building such places. Placemaking is the movement for reinventing and creating public spaces to bring together the surrounding communities and strengthen the already existing ties within the area. Through the support of civic engagement, placemaking aims to create public spaces that meet the needs of communities by focusing on the physical, cultural, and social identities specific to the area. Essentially, placemaking aims to create the types of spaces that post-industrialized communities need to be creative, vibrant, and sustainable.

The placemaking movement is paramount to the development of urban areas across the world. However, placemaking is not simply a movement to create beautiful places, but to actually reconstruct spaces that have been misused or left unutilized for the benefit of the people in the community. Effective placemaking can lead to increased community engagement and help to strengthen the economy of an area, which can ultimately lead to the revitalization of a town or city. Creating places that people actually want to visit, increases the communities’ pride for their town or city, and in turn, prompts them to do more for the place they call home. The reconstruction of one simple place can start a revolution that can help to reshape a community for the better.

Greater Lansing appears to be going through a renaissance of sorts. Over the past several years, numerous developers have presented their visions for what Lansing, East Lansing, and the surrounding communities should look like. While a few projects such as the Skyvue Development and Spartan Village have already gone through, many other projects remain on the table (ex. The Park District, and the Red Cedar Development). Several of these proposals discuss building luxury apartments and revamping the area to attract more national and regional chain stores, both of which will hopefully lead to heightened economic prosperity for Greater Lansing. However, many of these projects appear to do little for the community that already resides in the area. There are several ways that these proposed projects could include elements that would benefit local residents. However, there is a need for communication between these developers and the local community to ensure that their projects will build things the community actually wants to have.

“If there’s not sincerity on the part of all parties to work together collectively, and be a family around a common cause then [a placemaking initiative] is not going to work” (Project for Public Spaces). The placemaking movement is not a top-down process, but rather a collaborative discussion between developers, city officials, and the local community. By having people from all walks of life involved in the planning and implementation, one is more likely to end up with a public space that will benefit the community it was created to serve. Placemaking does not always have to be the expensive process of reconstructing a square or building a park. Several cities have implemented simple and low costs initiatives to spur public engagement in a space. The case study below, discusses several of the projects the city of Detroit has done to turnaround the city which has struggled for several years. These projects have included concerts and farmers markets, and even turning an underutilized lawn in the downtown area into a beach with lawn chairs for the local community to enjoy during a hot summer day. Changes do not always have to be large to have a strong impact. Ultimately, the aim of the placemaking movement is to create new relationships while also strengthening the existing bonds between urban spaces and its local communities, and is something that Greater Lansing could benefit from immensely.

An example of this principle at work: Detroiters Work: The Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper Regeneration of a Great American City