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

A image of the World's Columbian Exposition overlayed with a picture of Keanu Reeves in the rain from the movie Point Break.

Keanu Reeves Set to Play Daniel Burnham in ‘The Devil in the White City’

Planning is going to get a new level of star power as a limited series adaptation of The Devil in the White City gets ready for television screens in 2024.

August 8, 2022 - Reel Chicago

Kids

Opinion: Aging Population, Declining Fertility Requires Long-Term Investments

Faced with the dire consequences of a one-two punch of aging populations and declining birthrates, one writer has suggestions for how policy can help ensure a better future.

August 9, 2022 - Financial Times

View from middle of street in downtown Telluride, Colorado with mountains in background

Marrying Urban Identity and Economic Prosperity

A new book posits that truly successful communities have a strong economic base and a firmly rooted sense of place.

August 5, 2022 - Governing

Aerial view of downtown San Antonio with Tower Life Building in foreground

San Antonio Office Tower To Become Residential

With the building more than half vacant, the new owners of the Tower Life Building plan to convert the historic tower into residences that could include affordable housing.

50 minutes ago - San Antonio Report

Embarcadero

Freeway Removal Movement Slowly Gains Steam

Although the concept has recently received more national attention thanks in part to the federal Reconnecting Communities Act, cities have shown reluctance to support highway removal projects.

1 hour ago - Governing

Accessible elevator sign with arrow on a New York City subway platform

MTA Uses Density Bonuses to Improve Accessibility

Under a new zoning law, New York City developers can receive density bonuses for building elevators and other accessibility upgrades for the city’s subway system.

2 hours ago - Queens Eagle

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Hand Drawing Master Plans

This course aims to provide an introduction into Urban Design Sketching focused on how to hand draw master plans using a mix of colored markers.