Opinion From hip festivals to restaurants and kitchen gardens. It has become the standard method for making undeveloped urban areas attractive to new residents. But according to columnist Rinske Brand, it has little to do with the original meaning of placemaking. “Does this place cook? Jane Jacobs would shake her head, I suppose.” Brand therefore argues for a new concept.
No more area development without placemaking. It has conquered a fixed place in the development process in recent years. A big gain for all city builders and a victory for participation and co-creation, one would think. But it just depends. It is mainly a matter of definition.
Although a relatively young discipline in the Netherlands, placemaking is certainly not new. It originated in New York in the 1960s. Those inspired by the ideas of urban activist Jane Jacobs or the projects of the organization Project for Public Spaces will describe placemaking as an approach that aims to actively involve residents, entrepreneurs, visitors and other stakeholders in making ‘their’ place better. .
By giving these people the leading role in the improvement process, a place with a clear identity and added value is created. They therefore want to keep coming and contribute to it themselves. In the early days, residents regularly took to the streets with cans of paint to demand more space for pedestrians in the car-dominated American cities. The core of placemaking is co-creation. Power to the people!
But that’s not necessarily the Dutch approach, it seems. If you ask an average area developer what is meant by placemaking, you will get answers along the lines of: ‘shows that it will be a nice place’, ‘puts the area on the map’ or even ‘interesting future buyers’. The placemaking activities vary from festivals and events to cultural hotspots, restaurants, kitchen gardens and sports fields. Often conceived during an internal brainstorming session or developed by a hired agency, as part of the overall marketing strategy for the area. These are usually also temporary measures which must disappear when the next phase in the development process starts.
Naturally, the neighborhood can come along and participate in these activities. But their role is largely limited to consuming activities that they did not invent themselves.
Is this place to make? Jane Jacobs would shake her head, I suspect. But is it bad or undesirable? No, neither. Because these initiatives are often successful, often involve local entrepreneurs and are valued by local residents. But let’s face it, co-creation is anything but. Just like Power to the people.
It is therefore mainly the definition used that leads to confusion. And to disappointments in relation to participation and co-creation between parties who unconsciously take a different view of the concept. In fact, we can no longer call this second variant ‘placemaking’. After all, this term took on a different meaning decades ago.
This second variant owes its name to itself. What if we simply turn things around to ‘do the place’? Because that is literally what happens: the ‘making’ of a place, just as an artist or a song can be ‘made’ by marketers, radio DJs and managers. With the description something like: ‘all activities – initiated by the developer or owner – to make a place more well-known, more attractive or better, and in which residents, entrepreneurs and neighborhood initiatives can participate during and after realization’.
Clearly articulating to everyone involved whether you want to do ‘placemaking’ or ‘make the place’ at the front of a development process solves a lot of miscommunication. And Jane is happy again.