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Detroit's Campus Martius Park, an example of Placemaking in action.

Placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. Placemaking capitalizes on a local community's assets, inspiration, and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people's health, happiness, and well being. It is political due to the nature of place identity. Placemaking is both a process and a philosophy.


The concepts behind placemaking originated in the 1960s, when writers like Jane Jacobs and William H. Whyte offered groundbreaking ideas about designing cities that catered to people, not just to cars and shopping centers. Their work focused on the importance of lively neighborhoods and inviting public spaces. Jacobs advocated citizen ownership of streets through the now-famous idea of "eyes on the street." Whyte emphasized essential elements for creating social life in public spaces.[1]

The term came into use in the 1970s by landscape architects, architects and urban planners to describe the process of creating squares, plazas, parks, streets and waterfronts that will attract people because they are pleasurable or interesting. Landscape often plays an important role in the design process. The term encourages disciplines involved in designing the built environment to work together in pursuit of qualities that they each alone are unable to achieve.

Bernard Hunt, of HTA Architects noted that: "We have theories, specialisms, regulations, exhortations, demonstration projects. We have planners. We have highway engineers. We have mixed use, mixed tenure, architecture, community architecture, urban design, neighbourhood strategy. But what seems to have happened is that we have simply lost the art of placemaking; or, put another way, we have lost the simple art of placemaking. We are good at putting up buildings but we are bad at making places."

Jan Gehl has said "First life, then spaces, then buildings – the other way around never works"; and "In a Society becoming steadily more privatized with private homes, cars, computers, offices and shopping centers, the public component of our lives is disappearing. It is more and more important to make the cities inviting, so we can meet our fellow citizens face to face and experience directly through our senses. Public life in good quality public spaces is an important part of a democratic life and a full life."[2]

The writings of poet Wendell Berry have contributed to an imaginative grasp of place and placemaking, particularly with reference to local ecology and local economy. He writes that, "If what we see and experience, if our country, does not become real in imagination, then it never can become real to us, and we are forever divided from it... Imagination is a particularizing and a local force, native to the ground underfoot."


According to Project for Public Spaces,[3] successful placemaking is based on eleven basic principles:

The Community Knows Best[edit]

An important aspect of placemaking is taking into account inputs of the people who will be using the public space most. That is, to say, the community for which the public space is intended. This is important because members of the community are likely to have useful insights into how the space does - or should - function, as well as a historical perspective of the area, and an understanding of what does and does not matter to other members of the community.

Places, Not Designs[edit]

Placemaking is not just about designing a park of plaza with efficient pedestrian circulation. It involves taking into account the interrelations between surrounding retailers, vendors, amenities provided, and activities taking place in the space, then fine-tuning the space with landscape changes, additions of seating, etc, to make all of those elements mesh. The end result should be a cohesive unit that creates greater value for the community than just the sum of its parts.

Placemaking is a Group Effort[edit]

Partners for political, financial, and intellectual backing are crucial to getting a public space improvement project off the ground. These partners can range from individuals, to private or municipal institutions, to museums, to schools.

Make and Act on Observations[edit]

By observing how a public space is used, it is possible to gain an understanding of what the community does and does not like about it. This understanding can be used to assess what activities and amenities may be missing from the space. Even after a public space has been built, observation is key to properly managing it, and evolving it to better suit the community's needs over time.

Requires a Vision[edit]

As with many other types of project, a placemaking project needs a vision to succeed. This vision should not be the grand design of a single person, but the aggregate conception of the entire community.

Requires Patience[edit]

A placemaking project does not happen overnight. Do not be discouraged if things do not go exactly as planned at first, or if progress seems slow.


Triangulation, simply put, is the strategic placement of amenities, such that they encourage social interaction, and are used more frequently. For example "if a children's reading room in a new library is located so that it is next to a children's playground in a park and a food kiosk is added, more activity will occur than if these facilities were located separately." [3]

Ignore Naysayers[edit]

Just because it hasn't been done doesn't mean it can't be done. What it does mean is that there are few people, in either the private or public sectors, who have the job of creating places.

Form Supports Function[edit]

A public space's form factor should be formulated with its intended function(s) in mind.

Money Should Not Be an Issue[edit]

If networking and team building have been executed correctly, public sentiment towards the project should be positive enough to overlook its monetary cost.

Placemaking is an Ongoing Process[edit]

Placemaking is never "done". Minor tweaks can be made to improve the space's usefulness to its community over time, and regular maintenance/upkeep of facilities and amenities is a fact of life.

Healthy Placemaking - The Link Between Place and Health[edit]

Both the opportunities available to individuals and the choices made based on those opportunities impact individual, family, and community health. The World Health Organization's definition of health[4] provides an appropriate, broad-reaching understanding of health as a "resource for everyday life, not the object of living" and an important frame for discussing the interconnections between Place and Health. A 2016 report The Case for Healthy Places, from Project for Public Spaces and the Assembly Project, funded by the Knight Foundation and focusing on research related to Shaping Space for Civic Life both offer insight into the current evidence base showing how health and wellbeing are impacted by where you live and the opportunities available to you.

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "What is Placemaking? | Project for Public Spaces". 2009-12-31. Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  2. ^ /
  3. ^ a b "Eleven Principles for Creating Great Community Places - Project for Public Spaces". Project for Public Spaces. Retrieved 2017-03-29. 
  4. ^ "Health Promotion Glossary" (PDF). Health Promotion Glossary. World Health Organization. 1998. Retrieved 11 September 2016. 



  • Pierce, Martin, Murphy, “Relational Place-Making: the networked politics of place.” The Royal Geographical Society (2010): 55.

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