What does placemaking mean for me and my community?

Communities that embrace and actively apply concepts that support a strong sense of place will experience a robust economic viability, as people will choose to live, work and establish their businesses within and around that community.

Wikipedia defines placemaking as a term that was first used in the 1970s by architects and planners to describe the process of creating squares, plazas, parks, streets and waterfronts that attract people because they are pleasurable or interesting. Landscape often plays an important role in the design process. The idea of placemaking began over forty years ago, when research clearly showed that cities should be designed for people, with walkable streets, welcoming public spaces and lively neighborhoods. This “new” way of thinking about communities, the environment and public life is spreading across our country — and the world.

Many people describe placemaking simply as a set of fresh, common-sense ideas that can help us discover more connections with people in our daily lives. Growing numbers of people now search for places to gather with others as neighbors and citizens, to instill a new sense of public spirit to their communities. They want more and better public parks, restaurants, walkable neighborhoods, youth hang-outs, farmer’s markets, business districts, bike paths, community centers, locally-owned businesses, playgrounds and public transportation options.

Architects, developers, planners, traffic engineers, and landscape architects are essential partners to these efforts, but a wider circle includes business owners and managers, journalists, educators, fitness promoters, mental health professionals, artists and more.  It is hard to think of anyone who wouldn’t endorse the central focus: fostering a vital and nourishing sense of place everywhere that people live, work and play.

This recent increase in attention to issues of place shows it can no longer be dismissed as a passing fad. America’s alarming rise in obesity, for instance, is being blamed on the fact that fewer Americans today go out for a simple walk or any other form of exercise. The main reason mentioned is that there are few attractive or safe places to walk, run, bike or play in our car-dominated communities. This problem is a powerful symbol of what’s wrong with how we look at our communities.

The expanding interest in placemaking over recent months has been compared to the dramatic surge in environmental awareness that led to the first Earth Day celebration in 1970, a landmark event that involved tens of millions of Americans and gave birth to a powerful new political movement. The issue of place, like conservation and pollution in the 1960s, is not a new idea at all. It is an idea poised to explode in ways that help transform debates about a whole range of issues, including where people want to live, work or start their own business and grow with their families.

To learn more about placemaking concepts, tools and related topics, visit Project for Public Spaces.

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