What is Placemaking?

Placemaking Diagram, form the Program for Public SpacesAfter asking me what a policy wonk is, the next most popular question I get is: What is a placemaking?

What is Placemaking?

Placemaking is another ‘wonkish’ term that has means different things to different people.  To give you a broad idea, here are a few definitions from a survey conducted by the Project for Public Spaces:

“Placemaking is a dynamic human function: it is an act of liberation, of staking claim, and of beautification; it is true human empowerment.”

“Placemaking is the art of creating public ‘places of the soul,’ that uplift and help us connect to each other.”

Placemaking is “making a Public Space a Living Space.”

The concept of placemaking originated in the 1960’s when urban visionaries like Jane Jacobs and William H. Whyte espoused what were then (and may still be) radical ideas about designing cities that catered to people, not just to cars and shopping centers. Jacobs and Whyte felt it was important to create and support lively neighborhoods and inviting public spaces. In particular, Jacobs advocated residents taking ownership of their streets through the now-famous idea of “eyes on the street.” Whyte focused on seemingly minor details of urban spaces (such as movable chairs, water, and food) as important to creating vibrant public spaces.

At its most basic, placemaking is making livable places by thinking through:

  1. The design of places
  2. The experiences that make possible, and
  3. The consequences they have in our lives.

Bases on my studying of the works of Jacobs, Whyte and others (as well as a lucky few discussions I had with Jane in person), I have adopted this manta of placemaking: “creating a sense of place and a place of sense

Cities used to be social places designed for people.  Placemaking was the natural order of things.  Unfortunately, over the past 50 years, our cities and neighborhoods have become conduits for cars and commerce and the people who actually live in the them have been all but forgotten.

I consider myself a placemaker, because I’m passionate about returning the streets of downtown Phoenix to the residents of the Valley. I give life to this passion in many ways. I hold my own events highlighting the potential of public spaces, including Jane’s Walk PhoenixPark(ing) Day or Urban Breakfast.  I’m a member of groups like RadiatePhx and Get Your Phx that connect me with other people to share ideas and support each other in our endeavors. I also take part in organizations that push for creating a sustainable downtown as the Downtown Voices Coalition.

My goal is to help people realize that we are all responsible for the success of the places we live. By retaking control of the public spaces and holding our own events and making our own changes, not matter how small, we can be the leading edge of systemic changes that will force the politicians and bureaucrats to take note and begin designing cities for people again.

For more of my thinking on this topic, here is a link to a presentation on placemaking I gave to ASU’s Barrett Honor College Urban Experience orientation at Downtown Phoenix ASU campus in august 2010.

Here is a more recent presentation I gave at a Public Allies Arizona professional development workshop in December 2010.  And here is the link to my Ignite Phoenix 5 presentation on ‘Urban Space’.

For even more, check out all my posts tagged with placemaking.

Yuri Artibise

Yuri Artibise is an experienced policy analyst, community engagement practitioner and social media specialist. I have a Master of Public Administration degree with over 10 years of public policy research, analysis, and advocacy experience.
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