How Public Spaces can Engage Your Community and Improve Quality of Life
The Definition of Placemaking
Placemaking is an intentional use of public spaces to strengthen community connections among people and a place itself.
Placemaking can manifest in many forms, from a public park equipped with Wi-Fi, bike shares and amphitheaters to mixed-use buildings renovated with retail, coworking and lab spaces.
A People-driven Process
The ultimate goal of placemaking is to improve people’s wellbeing, quality of life and overall happiness, which communities achieve through a people-centered approach. By sourcing inspiration, needs and aspirations from the end-users, you create a vision that directly benefits the people who will use the space and encourages connection, ownership and engagement. A strategic placemaking vision built on a shared understanding of the community’s needs is what drives positive transformation.
Types of Placemaking
Placemaking is a process that creates quality spaces through improving public assets like streets, sidewalks, parks and buildings. Such improvements can make a community more inviting, encourage social interaction and stimulate economic development. What that process looks like and the length of time it takes depends on the project’s overall goals and initiatives.
Placemaking is about the people—a well-rounded approach to elevating various elements of day-to-day life, from work to public transportation to leisure.
Placemaking at its core focuses on creating engaging, quality locations. Over time, it organically pulls people together as they share spaces and commodities designed for the community’s health and wellbeing.
Creative placemaking transforms a place through arts and culture. Physical developments such as parks, trails, theaters and murals are essential, but social engagement drives change. Arts and entertainment highlight unique characteristics of the community while fostering a sense of connection to it.
Tactical placemaking is an iterative process that tests projects in phases. This approach allows incremental development as ideas are tried before long-term installation rather than implementing new concepts right out of the gate. These intermediary projects are rolled out quickly as low-risk, low-budget investments and invite community feedback to help address public needs.
Strategic placemaking targets a mid-to-long-term goal amidst developing quality places. Such goals typically center around attracting talent and businesses to develop an innovative ecosystem. It prioritizes improvements to help job creation, talent development and economic growth.
Inclusivity and accessibility drive the Innovation Quarter’s planning. Our placemaking principles are the foundation of many initiatives and improvements implemented throughout our innovation district. To honor the diversity, people and partners within the Innovation Quarter, we strive to create spaces that contribute to the community’s overall health, happiness and wellbeing.
We seek to partner with and learn from organizations and individuals in and around Winston-Salem that are embedded in this work, to life up voices that have been left out and to continually renew this commitment in order to ensure our community is one where all feel welcome and valued.
The Project for Public Spaces (PPS) is one of the leading organizations focused on helping communities reinvent their public spaces. Whether a park, greenway, plaza or renovated building, PPS has identified 11 guiding principles that facilitate successful placemaking processes.
Properly Set the Foundation
1. The Community Is the Expert: Collaboration and diversity play a role in innovation and placemaking alike. Gathering perspectives and various insights into a place’s unmet needs and existing functions is a critical starting point. These conversations can also reveal potential partners and cultivate a sense of community ownership, which are vital to the success of any placemaking initiative.
2. Look for Partners: Whether individual advocates, local instructions or regional organizations, all stages of the placemaking process can be strengthened through partner support and input. With a variety of partners comes a variety of unique strengths. Partners can be critical to securing funding, galvanizing community support, and understanding issues that need to be addressed with the improved place.
Strategic partnerships—both public and private—are vital to growing an innovation district and helping it thrive.
3. You Can See a Lot Just By Observing: Not all input needs to come from formal conversations and partnerships. Seeing how a space is used before a placemaking initiative can reveal what activities and amenities are missing—observation after can help guide improvement. Studying what projects others have implemented and achieved through placemaking can inspire and guide.
Translate the Vision into Action
4. Have a Vision: Placemaking comes in all shapes and sizes. The placemaking vision should be unique to each community. The identity of a place should instill a sense of pride in the community and become a spot where people want to work, live and play.
5. Create a Place, Not a Design: Aesthetic is important, but it takes more than design to turn an underperforming space into a functional place. Marrying functional elements like seating, signage and pedestrian walkways with design elements like landscaping and public art creates a comfortable environment that can serve multiple needs and interests.
6. Form Supports Function: Similarly, how the space functions dictates its form. Form helps the space achieve its goals and serve its intended purpose.
7. Triangulate: In placemaking, relationships are everything—but we aren’t talking about partners this time. The relationship between elements of a place and its proximity and relevance can make a difference in its success by encouraging greater use and enhancing the function of the space. For example, adding food truck parking adjacent to greenspace creates more activity than if these two amenities were separate.
8. Experiment with Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper: Placemaking is a significant undertaking that communities can’t expect to happen overnight. Placing benches in a common area, adding crosswalks to pedestrian-heavy streets or painting a mural on the side of an unused building can be the first steps towards broader, more extensive placemaking initiatives.
The “lighter, quicker, cheaper” approach starts with small-scale improvements that can be refined and expanded over time.
9. They Always Say “It Can’t Be Done.”: Every project will encounter roadblocks. There’s no formula for creating great places, which is often seen in the work it takes to overcome inevitable hurdles. Adjusting, adapting and tapping into partners’ strengths is vital to nurturing progress.
10. Money Is Not The Issue: We won’t argue that funding isn’t a necessary component of placemaking; however, it shouldn’t be seen as an obstacle to growth. Programming, activities and improvements are easier and less expensive to implement once the initial infrastructure is in place. As placemaking grows support and participation, the cost burden gets spread across partners.
11. You Are Never Finished: Communities are living entities with changing needs, and great places will continually evolve to meet those needs. Whether that’s maintenance to repair worn-out amenities or improvements to address new issues, flexibility and ongoing changes help to ensure placemaking success.
Importance of Public Space
Placemaking is a multifaceted, ongoing process. That process includes developing everything from office and retail buildings to auditoriums, parks and greenways open to everyone.
- Enable people to convene and connect—whether for entertainment, education or the simple euphoria of getting out and about.
- Make for a more diverse and inclusive environment.
- Encourage organic and planned experiences that elevate people’s overall health and happiness.
- Foster connections with the community and the desire for its members to continue making it a better place.
What Makes a Good Public Space?
Whether it’s a dynamic innovation district aimed at facilitating connections or a quiet neighborhood park providing a safe place for kids to play, most great places enhance the quality of life for those within the community. Four key attributes contribute to a place’s success:
Accessible places are highly walkable, pedestrian-friendly and convenient for diverse populations. Improvements to accessibility can be measured by:
- Types of transportation (mode splits)
- Transit usage
- Pedestrian activity
- Parking usage patterns
Places with high sociability are full of activity and interactions amongst people—from networking to volunteering. These places give people a reason to return and convene time after time. Improvements to sociability can be measured by:
- The number of women, children and elderly present
- Evening use
Usability in a place is defined by how well the activities and real estate attract people. Improvements to usability can be measured by:
- Local business ownership
- Property values
- Retail sales
The degree to which people feel safe, comfortable and have an overall desire to spend time somewhere reflects that place’s livability. Improvements to livability can be measured by:
- Sanitation rating
- Building conditions
- Crime statistics
- Environmental data
Placemaking has taken shape across the country as cities focus on improving quality of life. There’s never a dull moment in areas that prioritize placemaking, whether through revamped walking paths and parks or food trucks and festivals.
Creative Placemaking Examples
- Along Depot Street or Long Branch Trail, where you’ll see historic murals.
- At Bailey Park, during an annual Juneteenth, Gears & Guitars or IdeasCityWS Marketplace of Ideas festival.
- Inside MIXXER, a community makerspace where craftsmanship can flourish.
Standard, Tactical and Strategic Placemaking Examples
Placemaking looks different everywhere, but the successful initiatives improve accessibility, sociability, usability and livability. In the Innovation Quarter, we’ve renovated old warehouses into multi-purpose buildings, maintained flower beds throughout public areas and tested drone use for increasing healthcare access in the community. Standard, tactical, strategic placemaking may look like:
- Pop-up dining events
- New crosswalks or bike lanes
- Additional park seating
- SmartZones, which cluster tech-based companies, entrepreneurs and researchers in proximity to the community
- Blocking off streets during certain days or times for pedestrians, cyclists and other events or markets
It’s a win-win for public health and public stability.
We know that social networks and social support are paramount to supporting physical and mental health.1 It’s also been found that the places where people live, work and visit have the power to impact their sense of belonging, social cohesion and self.2 This emphasizes the idea that placemaking isn’t just about the economy (although it certainly plays a significant role in its flourishment).
Placemaking is about the people—a well-rounded approach to elevating various elements of day-to-day life, from work to public transportation to leisure. As a result, there are more significant ties to the community, a greater willingness to participate in the local economy and heightened opportunities for innovative development.
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