What if we built a Big Society around places?

During the last decade the UK was extremely generous in sharing valuable research on ways to shape the public realm. Now, while funding for much of that research has been reduced, the UK has a large opportunity (especially with the advent of the Big Society) to focus on the best bottom-up processes for shaping public spaces and enhancing civic life.

The time is right to move toward empowering local communities to improve their communities using the time-tested ways we’ve seen Placemaking succeed around the world.

In the UK our work has been particularly inspiring to us. We have collaborated with the Princes Foundation for the Built Environment and CABE and some of the Centres for Architecture.

Several years ago we did a City Commentary about the public spaces of London that ruffled some feathers in the design community. It would certainly need some updating today as poor spaces have been fixed while new opportunities have been squandered. Our largest foray in the UK has been through our partnership with Greenspace Scotland.

Our work at PPS over the past 35 years has been to learn from, advance and implements successful Placemaking. Fifty countries and 2,500 communities later, we are seeing innovation coming from our relationships in many parts of the world.

We think Placemaking is the best process to create the shared responsibility and citizen empowerment necessary to achieve the localism that the Big Society is striving for.

That’s one of the reasons we’re excited to kick off this blog series with New Start. Over the next few months, PPS will contribute lessons we’ve learned from our 35 years of Placemaking around the world, including tools, case-studies and tips on how to build great community places.

Here are some of the fundamental principles and ways of understanding Placemaking that we have been refining and applying through our partnership with communities around the world.

To PPS, Placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. Put simply, it involves looking at, listening to, and asking questions of the people who live, work and play in a particular space, to discover needs and aspirations. This information is then used to create a common vision for that place. The vision can evolve quickly into an implementation strategy, beginning with small-scale, do-able improvements that can immediately bring benefits to public spaces and the people who use them.

When PPS first started working with communities on their public spaces, it quickly became apparent that no one knows more about a place and how it functions than the people who live and work there.

However, we also found that people are rarely asked about the issues they have direct experience with; instead, the public is asked to provide feedback on proposed designs after the fact. 

This is what led us to develop a different process – one that is bottom up versus top-down and ‘place’-based versus project-based – which we call Placemaking. It’s more economical, more efficient, and more fun for both people in communities and local officials. It also results in high-impact, low-cost, immediate improvements and has a far greater impact on the community than traditional methods of design and planning.

Placemaking 101 – 

In this first installment, we’re pleased to share with New Start readers what PPS calls Placemaking 101, collection of common-sense guides to creating great community places that emerged from our on-the-ground work in helping people transform their public spaces.

What is Placemaking?

What Makes a Successful Place?

11 Principles for Creating Great Community Places

The Power of 10 and the Origin of the Power of 10


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