Placemaking definition


Does Placemaking = Homogenised + Gentrified?

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I recently posted about what placemaking means and the Valuing Creative Placemaking research project that I initiated with a team of great academics, commissioned by Landcom / UrbanGrowth NSW.   The crux of our research project into creative placemaking is how it impacts the people who use our streets, town centres and city spaces.  Importantly, we are looking how one might measure the economic social and environmental impact of creative placemaking.  And even just mentioning that goal is a hot topic.


As you can see in the diagramme above, we’ve identified a couple of areas of critique that creative placemaking attracts.  On the one hand, some placemaking can sometimes use generic approaches that can produce (somewhat ironically) a sameness of place.  On the other hand, :  placemaking is often cited as a cause of neighbourhood gentrification.

On the homogenisation front, I’m right there.  One of my least favourite parts of a lot of placemaking practice is that it often uses generic tools in an effort to get communities to engage with their places.  Grimy parklets with dying trees, colourful chairs poised on astroturf circles, lonely coffee carts and food trucks.  Did anyone mention those giant pot plants? These are the easy-reach, and often wheeled out tools of Placemaking 101.  They do a job yes.  But do they really get people thinking about what is special and particular to their place?  I’m not so sure.  A better approach to meaningful engagement with place seeks to draw out the specific character of a place:  its stories, physical character and its communities.  Our Urban Innovation Accelerator is the tool we have devised for just that purpose.  Anyway that’s material for another rave…

No doubt, there will be contention that placemaking is a tool for gentrification and a lot of heat under some academic collars.  Don’t get me wrong, the dispossession of communities that happens with gentrification is a serious concern and it rightly attracts debate.   The jury is still out on whether creative placemaking can be identified as a prime cause on this.  But either way, merely measuring the effect of creative placemaking is not a handshake with the devil.

As a research team we identified that the lack of concrete methodology for measuring the value of creative placemaking was an Achilles’ heel to its sustainability.  For better or worse, the clearer picture we have of the effects of placemaking the more empowered we are as a community to make good decisions.  So that’s the job we’ve undertaken and at the moment we’re refining what sort of indicators might be a good measure for valuing placemaking.

So watch this space for more on that – later this year.


Q: How many placemakers does it take to…

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… agree on what placemaking means?

A:  Quite a lot actually.

The great news is that City People has got the most comprehensive definition of that very nebulous term right here.

Valuing Creative Placemaking” is a collaborative learning project commissioned by Landcom and UrbanGrowth NSW that I initiated with a great team of colleagues:

The first part of our research is a literature review of the placemaking field and its numerous contesting definitions.  If you want to dive deep into our appraisal of the field of placemaking and the multiplicity of definitions, you can download Valuing Placemaking Literature Review here and read the full report for yourself.

Or keep on reading for my ‘cheat sheet’ version…

Basically our research team decided to go with a nuanced definition of placemaking proposed by geographer and planner Alan A Lew.  He outlines four different kinds of placemaking:

standard placemaking focused on physical upkeep and maintenance of the built environment.

strategic placemaking focused on the creation of a new development on the scale of a neighbourhood or city through a top down’ development approach with a significant level of investment, often from governments or private developers.

creative placemaking focused on the utilisation of the arts, to make a place more vibrant and interesting, be it through applications to the physical environment, the presence of arts related businesses, or the staging of programming and events

tactical placemaking focused on a ‘bottom-up’ approach led by community groups looking to test, change or improve aspects of their locale and often using temporary, low-technology interventions.

Placemaking Defn.001Happily, Lew is the first to admit that these are not neat and tidy compartments and that there is a lot of bleed between different areas.  So as a team, we agreed to adopt his framework as the most useful way to think about creative placemaking in relation to other placemaking practices.  As I’ve mentioned, placemaking exists in a contested field and no doubt there will be dissent among practitioners about whether this is correct or not.  But we believe Lew’s framework lends itself to the diversity of placemaking projects around the world.

So there you have it:  a tight little précis of the field of placemaking and one that provides for a whole spectrum of practices from top-down to bottom-up.

As you can see in the diagramme above there are some critiques of placemaking – homogenisation and gentrification.  I’ve got a blog coming on that one – hopefully next week.

Follow City People (blue button at bottom of page) and we’ll ping it through as soon as it’s up.


Michael Cohen – Director, City People