What Makes Placemaking Work

New qualitative research into three example public spaces in the United States offers best practices and obstacles to avoid in the placemaking process.

Read Time: 2 minutes

August 23, 2021, 10:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


A canal under a bridge in Buffalo is lined by chairs and tables, people walking about, looking at peddle boats on the water.

Canalside in Buffalo was one of three public spaces examined by a recent study for lessons in placemaking.. | Milena Ramirez / Shutterstock

Nate Storring, deputy director of Project for Public Spaces, writes for the Brookings Institution blog, The Avenue, to provide a list of "takeaways" generated by a recent qualitative study into the holistic effects of three public spaces in the United States.

The research in question is a recent entry in the Bass Center for Transformative Placemaking research series titled "Beyond traditional measures: Examining the holistic impacts of public space investments in three cities." Researchers Hanna Love and Cailean Kok qualitatively examined public spaces in Flint, Mich., Buffalo, N.Y., and Albuquerque, N.M. "to shed new light on these questions and chart a path forward for more equitable and effective placemaking," explains Storring.

Storring focuses on four main takeways from the research, with more detail included in the source article below:

  1. Public space for 'everyone' don't work for everyone.
  2. Placemaking needs thoughtful place governance to sustain itself
  3. When it comes to money, 'how' sometimes matters more than 'how much'
  4. The future of public spaces is qualitative

On this last point, Storring notes that the groundbreaking observational research techniques pioneered by William H. Whyte and Jan Gehl "to track the number and kinds of people in a space and how they use it" offer a baseline of research that nevertheless fails to capture key issues, such as public perception, interpersonal interactions, and broader benefits to public health, the economy, and the environment. "Since then, academic research on public spaces has continued to evolve, with a growing emphasis on qualitative techniques," according to Storring.

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