Public spaces in cities should be designed and made by and for its people. This is the principle of placemaking. Its promoters recall the cases of unused squares or streets taken by road traffic, because its creation has not benefited citizens. When people take the center stage and enjoy their environment, cities become more livable and sustainable.
What is the placemaking?
Cars, noise, pollution, stress … Public spaces in cities are usually not enjoyed, instead they are avoided. The origin of the problem is that in a lot of cases urban design don’t think about people, who go to a secondary and passive role in the scheme. They are the defenders of placemaking, an international movement to return public spaces to citizens and transform them into something alive, in constant evolution, according to the needs and interests of the people. To do this, they encourage the residents to be involved in the designing and creating process so they can enjoy them.
One of the prime movers of placemaking, Fred Kent, founder and president of the Project for Public Spaces, highlights the fundamental value of urban design to enhance the quality of life and the environment in cities: “If you design cities for cars and traffic, you’ll have cars and traffic. If you design for people and space, you will have people and space.”
The placemaking remember that many parks and squares, even newly created, are underutilized because they are spaces considered to “move” people, not for the enjoyment of the residents. The design must be the product of citizen involvement, bearing in mind that what makes great places is not aesthetic, but also about what the people do on them, how they feel and use it.
How to make a good placemaking
Involve people and do something unique, adapted to a specific public space. Many designs are reused in other places where they have been successful or because they are aesthetically pleasing, but that does not mean work elsewhere. Each environment, each community is unique, and it is the people themselves who know best. If neighbors offer their ideas, of what might work and what does not, to leave open the possibility of change, the place evolves, is more likely to become a social meeting point.
Pedestrianise spaces, prioritize public areas for people and use different formulas to pacify and reduce road traffic.
Apply measures LQC. This acronym derived from the words lighter, quicker, cheaper. The transformation of urban public space does not require large works and budgets that go on forever, but useful and people friendly initiatives. The measures can be very diverse, such as placing chairs, stalls or food products, art pieces made by the neighbors, get outdoors cultural, educational, environmental activities, etc., which are usually made within buildings, set up urban gardens, etc. This will also achieves the participation and involvement of citizens.
Focus on the management of the site, even a public space with a bad design can gain life if managed well. The fountains, the green areas, should be well maintained and activities can be programmed for all kinds of people. A good placemaking should make the neighbors get engaged in these activities spontaneously and regularly, and become a living space, dynamic, open, participatory.
Getting open spaces to all. The goal is not to a particular group invigorate change and appropriates with the place, but the neighborhood and the people who transit can enjoy and enriched by the variety.
Start with the areas most likely to succeed. Places with stakeholders who can achieve to launch an initiative of this kind will assist people in other parts of the city to see its benefits and want to get involved.
Times Square Reconstruction (New York, USA)
A portion of the road was transformed to give a pedestrian use and a meeting point by a unique use of paint job and urban furniture, without the need of site works. Mobile chairs and tables were placed, so people can use them at will. These items are then stored at night, a task paid by the business in the area. Robberies of these items are hardly insignificant.
Dreamhamar (Hamar, Norway)
This project aims to achieve urban networking spaces, and is an initiative of the spanish architect studio ecosistema urbano, who specializes in this type of design.