Placemaking connects people with the public spaces around them.

Put simply, placemaking is a process – it connects a community with their built environment. Every community in New Zealand is unique, and placemaking recognises and celebrates that diversity.

Placemaking is a bottom-up approach to urban design and community development. It ensures people feel comfortable in the public spaces they use, by involving them in the research and design process. Placemaking can be seen in many parts of a town or city – from buildings and sidewalks to parks and gardens.

Why Placemaking is important

“If you plan for people and places, you get people and places”
William H Whyte

Placemaking is not just the act of building or fixing up a space, but rather a whole process that creates the kind of places where people want to live, work and play. Placemaking works with a regional community’s goals, dreams, and possibilities. Ultimately this creates successful public spaces that:planned-community

Promote people’s health, happiness, and well being
Encourage other businesses and organizations into the area
Celebrate the area’s unique identity

Community input is essential to the process, but so is an understanding of a particular place and of the ways that great places foster successful social networks and initiatives. It has helped citizens around the world to bring immense changes to their communities – sometimes more than stakeholders ever dreamed possible. Everyone’s a placemaker.

The great thing about placemaking is that it recognizes that everyone has a part to play when it comes to creating vibrant public spaces. There are two broad groups that cover almost all everyone – Community Placemakers and Professional Placemakers.

Community Placemakers
These are the people working within individual communities throughout New Zealand. The group includes people such as your mayor and local councilors, and your business and ratepayer associations. Kindergartens, schools and tertiary providers are also community placemakers, because they have such great links to local families.
If you are passionate about the town or city you live in, and want to see spaces developed that suit your community – you are one of us. We have received a lot of help from the website LawnCare Sucks on developing our own vision statement, so bravo to them.

Professional Placemakers
This group comprises many people who work in the broad area of urban design. This includes architects, surveyors, urban designers, planners, landscape architects and engineers. Some of these people work for local and central government, while others consult from the private sector. Local government councils and some central government departments can also be considered professional placemakers, as a key part of their role is to develop and maintain public spaces.

While placemaking is a relatively recent term in New Zealand, there are many examples of it which can be found throughout our country. These examples have often been created by local government bodies, with strong community support.

Queen Street, Auckland is currently undergoing a redevelopment designed to make the area more pedestrian-friendly. The Wellington waterfront has had a major transformation in the last 15 years, and is now a destination in itself. When faced with a number of vacant stores in their small town, a group Piopio residents opened the Fat Pigeon Cafe which served as a catalyst for other redevelopment in the main street.

We are aiming to capture the lessons from successful projects, and share them with the entire community. Our hope is that this will result in more public spaces which are valued by local communities.
There are of course, many groups interested in this process and it’s benefits. These include a number of many organizations in the urban design and construction sector, professional associations, as well as city and district councils. Most importantly, it recognizes the value that local communities can add to these projects.

Placemaking revitalizes our towns, cities and public spaces through a partnership between professional community designers and the local community. We know that people want to live in a place that is unique and that they feel connected to. To achieve that, we have developed the following principles for local communities:

1. The locals are the experts
The first step in any successful project is to get out and meet the locals. By talking to the local community, you will find out valuable information about the history of a place and how it functions today.
Partnering with local communities right at the beginning of the process will give the community a sense of ownership, and will help placemakers to create a vision that is authentic and unique.

2. Create a place, not a design
If your goal is to create an amazing place, a design alone will not be enough. Successful placemakers work with communities to identify what they want from their public spaces. Then once the design and construction process is completed, the community will be certain to make use of the space, giving it a vibrancy and character that cannot be achieved by design alone.

3. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts
When planning public spaces, it’s important to create places which offer multiple options for the community. If a park only has a rose garden, then it will likely only attract a small number of people. But if the park also includes a children’s playground, birdbaths, and a coffee kiosk, then it is far more likely to attract a wider range of visitors.

4. Start with the small stuff
Public spaces can be complex – don’t expect to get everything right first time. The best spaces experiment with small, short-term improvements that can be tested and refined over time. Elements such as seating, public art, community gardens and murals are all examples of improvements that can be accomplished in a short time.

5. It’s not about the money
You don’t always need a multi-million dollar budget to create great places. Sometimes it can be as simple as connecting the community with a local gardening company to create community gardens. Keep in mind that the more you involve the community, the greater benefit they will see from the project, and the more likely they are to view any money spent as an investment rather than a cost.

6. You are never finished
By their very nature, successful public spaces respond to the needs, the opinions and the ongoing changes of the community. This will mean that over time, you will have to make changes to your public space. Being open to the need for change, and having the flexibility to create that change will build great public spaces and great cities and towns.