What Is Placemaking, Really?

It's a term that gets bandied about by the "creative class" to describe an endless array of projects, from whimsical pop-up art to new uses for century-old buildings. But what does placemaking really mean?

March 21, 2016, 5:00 AM PDT

By Philip Rojc @PhilipRojc


A collaborative art project

Credit / West End Mural

If intentionality is the essence of fashion, could a similar principle apply to urban design? Those who advocate and practice the urban interventionism called "placemaking" seem to think so. Russell Nichols examines the term from the perspective of those who engage in it—or abhor it.

Perhaps placemaking is controversial because of its political connotations. It is "a movement spearheaded by the creative class, who see collaboration as the path to the cutting edge. Projects benefit from public-private partnerships: an assorted team of supporters that includes city planners, architects, designers and local artists [...]" 

Some think it's a disingenuous term suited to slick marketing. Nichols quotes a co-editor of the Sacramento News & Review"'Modern urban revival shouldn't only matter when it's embraced by politicians, developers and Chamber of Commerce types. Placemaking shouldn't only be when the business community figures out how to commodify youth culture."'

In response, one place-maker offered this retort: "'Why denigrate people who want to improve Sacramento just because they 'just arrived in town'? I've been here eight years. Is that long enough to be entitled to an opinion? This smacks of a provincial attitude that remains all too common here.'"

Tuesday, March 8, 2016 in Comstock's Magazine

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