August 24, 2023

Ramon Marrades

Making Placemaking Systemic: 10 strategic ideas in development

In the world of city planning, the usual ways that cities are built have often fallen short of delivering the vibrant, people-centric spaces that our communities deserve. Placemaking, a holistic approach that fosters collaborative transformation of public spaces, stands as a potent challenge to these conventional methodologies. As we embark on this journey of reshaping our cities, we must recognize that embracing placemaking necessitates a fundamental shift in our manners.

Cities in Placemaking – Bergen – June, 2023 (Picture: Maria Visuals)

At Placemaking Europe, we are collaborating with leading European municipalities, including Bergen (Norway), Bradford (England), Budapest (Hungary), Cork (Ireland), Helsingborg (Sweden), Helsinki (Finland), Reggio Emilia (Italy), Rotterdam (The Netherlands), The Hague (The Netherlands), Trenčín (Slovakia), Vila Nova de Famalicão (Portugal), Vinnyitsia (Ukraine), and Wroclaw (Poland). Together, we are working to create a roadmap for implementing placemaking as a comprehensive city-wide approach. Our goal is to empower cities with the capabilities to drive enduring and transformative systemic change. This ongoing project, which commenced in January 2023 and will conclude at the end of 2024 with a shared commitment to follow the jointly devised roadmap, has already enabled us to distill a core set of ten pivotal insights. These insights are critical when integrating a placemaking approach into the heart of municipal projects and policies. They are as follows:

1. From Tactical to Strategic: Placemaking defies linear progression. It’s a dynamic and iterative process that requires continuous adjustments based on real-time feedback. We must view our strategies not as rigid blueprints, but as evolving frameworks that adapt to the pulse of the community.

2. 3D’s – Data, Demands, and Dreams: Within the tapestry of placemaking, we have the opportunity to weave together three vital threads: data, which informs our decisions; demands, which articulate the practical needs of the people; and dreams, which encapsulate their aspirations. By integrating these elements, we create spaces that are not just utilitarian but emotionally resonant.

3. The City for Whom?: In the midst of transformation, we must continuously ask ourselves: “Who is missing?” and “For whom are we making this city?” Inclusivity is the cornerstone of meaningful placemaking, ensuring that no voice goes unheard, and no community is left behind.

4. Make Change Visible: The path to garnering support and momentum is illuminated by showcasing the immediate positive changes brought about by placemaking efforts. By making these transformations tangible, we cultivate a sense of ownership among the community, strengthening and getting more people excited and involved.

5. Join Wider Alliances: Placemaking isn’t confined to a single sector or motive. It emerges in response to diverse factors, be they political, social, environmental, or driven by climate adaptation. By forming alliances with like-minded organizstions or movements, such as the New European Bauhaus or the proponents of the 15-minute city concept. We should connect with groups that care about the same things. We’re not alone in this journey.

6. Create the Conditions for the Good Things to Happen: As stewards of policy, we hold the power to shape the environment in which citizen- and place-led initiatives thrive. By creating an ecosystem that nurtures these initiatives, we pave the way for vibrant and sustainable urban spaces to flourish.

7. Infiltrate Your Organisations, Innovate from Inside: Change springs forth when we actively seek opportunities to infuse innovative ideas from within our organizations. This proactive approach disrupts the status quo and injects fresh perspectives into the placemaking process. Not only at the senior levels but at every single layer of organisations.

8. Reconcile Centrality and Proximity: Finding the right harmony between central city areas that are convenient for daily life and neighborhood spaces that have everything citizens need within walking distance is crucial. This balance not only shapes how the city looks but also creates fair and comfortable urban surroundings that cater to the needs of all residents.This equilibrium not only shapes the physical landscape but also fosters equitable and livable urban environments that resonate with all residents.

9. An Engagement Strategy is a Development Strategy: Placemaking is inherently intertwined with engagement. Prioritizing engagement in our development strategies ensures that outcomes are attuned to the real needs and desires of the community, yielding responsive and inclusive results.

10. Locals first. Visitors and investors will follow. Prioritizing the needs of local residents emerges as a pivotal strategy, serving as the foundation for creating vibrant urban spaces that naturally attract visitors. This local-centric approach weaves a tapestry of meaningful interactions, from corner cafes to community gardens, that collectively narrate the essence of the place. Interestingly, this genuine focus holds a magnetic charm for outsiders, who are drawn to the authenticity of a city cherished by its inhabitants. As a result, by cultivating spaces that resonate with locals’ needs and aspirations, cities effortlessly evolve into destinations that captivate both the hearts of their residents and the curiosity of visitors.

In conclusion, these ten principles offer a guide to navigate the complexities of urban transformation through the lens of placemaking. 

Cities in Placemaking – Bergen – June, 2023 (Picture: Maria Visuals)


More about Cities in Placemaking program:

Placemaking Week Europe 2023 (Strasbourg, September 26-29) is Europe’s biggest conference and festival celebrating the impact of placemaking on the urban fabric. The event brings together some 400+ placemakers from across Europe and the world at large who are working to create better cities together:

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September, 2024

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