Post-pandemic cities are increasingly turning to localised initiatives to strengthen place identities and community engagement. This two-part feature explores key strategies employed by cities to implement sustainable, community-driven placemaking and highlights creative projects around the world.
Cities mentioned in this article:
Port Phillip, Milan, Paris, Perth, Xi’an
||Urban assets integral to place-making are often clustered in central areas.
||COVID-19 exposed centralisation’s drawbacks, limiting citizens’ access to meaningful places.
||Cities increasingly adopt localised placemaking for resilient, vibrant neighbourhoods.
||Planning for placemaking sets the foundation for impactful urban renewal.
||Engaging local communities helps sustain placemaking.
||Inclusive design supports localised placemaking, facilitating community interactions.
In Xi’an, China, the Qujiang Creative Circle creates opportunities for placemaking with its interconnected walkways and linked terraces © The Oval Partnership/Guo Xinxin 郭新新
Placemaking – a multi-faceted approach to planning, designing, and proactively managing public spaces to be distinct, liveable, and loveable places – has been gaining traction as a concept in the last two decades. Besides creating distinctive spaces, placemaking also nurtures wellness and resilience in communities as places draw people together and provide opportunities for citizens to build connections and meaning.
However, urban assets that are integral to placemaking, such as museums, parks, and public art, are often clustered in central areas in cities. In the wake of global lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic, the drawbacks of centralisation have become apparent when citizens lost access to places that help them make meaning. Increasingly, cities today are turning to localised placemaking, leveraging community assets and resources to create vibrant, resilient neighbourhoods.
Plan for localised placemaking
Planning for placemaking sets the foundation for impactful urban renewal. The plan achieves several important objectives – it demonstrates civic commitment, captures the collective vision, identifies urban assets that can be used in placemaking, guides community engagement, and details resources needed.
Cities across Australia have drawn up localised placemaking plans in recent years, tailored to the needs of their communities. For example, the city of Port Phillip drew up a place plan for revitalising Fitzroy Street in St Kilda after extensive discussions with residents, businesses, school community, and welfare organisations. Focusing on Fitzroy Street’s reputation as a vibrant melting pot, the community implemented projects that would further enliven the street, such as commissioning street art, and working with property owners to avail vacant shops for artists, creative projects, and community initiatives. The city also awards grants to local groups whose projects support community placemaking goals, such as farmers’ markets and outdoor cinema.
In September 2020, Wales launched a charter that places community-led placemaking at the heart of urban development. Julie James, then Minister for Housing and Local Government, said, “Lockdown has made us appreciate our local ‘places’ more so than ever before and it’s vital, therefore, that all of us who work in the built environment sector strive to make the places where we live, work, shop or meet with others as good as they can be, for every member of the society.” Following the launch, the government announced a GBP 15.2 million placemaking fund (approx. USD 19.3 million) to support local projects while Welsh cities and towns developed place plans leveraging local distinctive assets and community facilities to effect placemaking.
“Lockdown has made us appreciate our local ‘places’ more so than ever before and it’s vital, therefore, that all of us who work in the built environment sector strive to make the places where we live, work, shop or meet with others as good as they can be, for every member of the society.”
— Julie James
Then-Minister for Housing and Local Government, Wales
Engage local communities
Leveraging local community knowledge and involvement is crucial to sustainable localised placemaking. As experts of their neighbourhoods, residents have a more holistic perspective, while city governments can provide specific expertise and resources to empower them in transforming their neighbourhoods.
The city-wide transformation of Milan, Italy, in the past decade demonstrates the value of community engagement. Milan’s recent placemaking efforts have focused on easing traffic congestion and reclaiming pedestrian space. Mayor Giuseppe Sala shares, “Milan is aware of the problems and opportunities in terms of sustainability, resilience, quality of life – and it views bottom-up initiatives are a chance to re-use public and private spaces, providing useful services for the community.”
In 2019, the city drew up a master plan setting goals including redeveloping strategic public spaces and instituting cycling lanes to reconnect neighbourhoods with the metropolitan city. The city invited its citizens to collaborate through various channels. For instance, citizens could propose, vote on, or co-design physical structures in public spaces. They could also propose non-permanent interventions in their neighbourhoods, such as reclaiming roads as temporary public squares. Between 2019 and 2021, the city built more than 30 squares in its suburbs, many of them in low-income, underserved neighbourhoods. To encourage public ownership of such projects, communities had to co-fund at least half of the project funds with the city.
The City of Milan aims to ease traffic, reclaim pedestrian space and focus on public spaces © claudiodivizia/123RF
On a smaller scale, the city of Paris, France transformed an underutilised 1,000 square-metre space between two social housing blocks in northeastern suburb Aubervilliers. From 2015 to 2019, the city authorities and architects worked with residents to equip them with skills, mindsets, and resources to sustain the project. Today, the revamped place that includes a community garden, space for artists’ collaboration, and space for community meals, is managed by a non-profit association made up of residents.
Design for inclusivity
Inclusive design of precincts goes a long way in facilitating and enabling localised placemaking, as spaces and facilities are connected seamlessly and facilitate community interactions. In the south of Perth’s city centre, Cockburn Central, a fast-growing mixed-use precinct, has largely developed without management of its growth. In recent years, the government has drawn up a masterplan to transform the precinct with a strong focus on inclusivity and creating a sense of place. Some strategies include creating stronger cross-precinct connectivity, building tree-lined streets to encourage residents to get out of home, and developing more green spaces to link the retail, recreational, and residential zones. A new town plaza is planned as well to create a clear focal point for Cockburn Central.
This inclusive approach is also illustrated in the development of a mixed-use space in a new urban district south of the city centre in Xi’an, China. Quijiang Creative Circle, which comprises office, retail, residential, recreational, and cultural amenities, was designed such that indoor and outdoor spaces are seamlessly integrated through a network of sky gardens, landscaped decks, elevated walkways, and pedestrian paths.
As part of supporting precinct-based placemaking, architects and planners have also started designing traditionally walled-off public facilities to be multi-functional and networked with their immediate environment. The School in Sydhavnen, Copenhagen, for instance, was designed with its first two storeys open for public use, with the ground floor serving both as city square and school yard. In Olathe, Kansas, USA, the Indian Creek Library located at the edge of the neighbourhood was built to be a multifunctional community hub connecting to a nearby park. Creation spaces, such as a maker space and recording studio are distributed through the library building, while façade treatments such as glass wall and metal cladding made it a placemaking icon.
As cities become more globalised over time, localised placemaking will correspondingly grow more important in nurturing community bonds and a strong sense identity and belonging. By collaborating with residents and emphasising inclusivity in designs, cities are paving the way for creative, impactful placemaking from the ground up. O