“Placemaking” – do we use this meme because it means SOMETHING, because it means ANYTHING or because it means NOTHING?

“Placemaking” – have we adopted this meme because it means SOMETHING, because it means ANYTHING, or because it means NOTHING?In the lexicon of property, development and regeneration jargon it is difficult to think of a more problematic expression than “Placemaking”. It seems to be less a defined term and more a label, a “rent-a-meme” which can be used by anyone to mean anything in the context of defining a relationship between a grouping of structures and spaces and the people who interact with them, whether permanently, transiently or tangentially.

So, let’s pick up and look at a couple of random statements about Placemaking (and there are plenty of them) and see what we get from them.

Designing Buildings Wiki (Designing Buildings) offers this attempt to define Placemaking:

“Placemaking is a term used to describe the process by which an area in the public realm is given a unique and attractive character. In itself, placemaking is a generic concept which could be said to embrace the work of a number of professions, including architects, town planners, masterplanners, urban designers and landscape architects.”

The Scottish Government (Gov.scot) suggests:

“Placemaking is a creative, collaborative process that includes design, development, renewal or regeneration of our urban or rural built environments. The outcome should be sustainable, well-designed places and homes which meet people’s needs by harnessing the distinct characteristics and strengths of each place to improve the overall quality of life for people.”

In terms of inspiration, the words which leap out are: “process”, “character”, “embrace”, “creative”, “collaborative”, “sustainable”, “people”, “characteristics”, “strengths”.

None of these words really conveys the idea of “making” but rather of facilitating, allowing, co-operating and sharing. So is “Placemaking” a bit of a misnomer? Should we be talking about “Placeplanting” and (to continue the gardening analogy) fostering the aim of identifying what are the seeds of places, what is the soil in which they grow and what are the nutrients and supplements which places require to take hold and flourish? We could, of course, also talk about identifying the bugs which feed off and eventually kill places, and how to protect against them.

Most of us would probably accept the idea that you don’t make places. Experientially we would almost certainly find it easier to identify with the concept of “Placeplanting”. Communities grow and develop largely as the result of the activity of the individuals who find their place within them. Those individuals use the resources at their disposal to feed that growth and development. 

So why do we keep talking about making places?

Maybe “Placeplanting” is not a cool enough expression. Perhaps, though, that concept doesn’t readily and quickly enough yield margin and isn’t “investable”. Maybe we need a phrase we can use to convey that which we know is a key part of actually allowing thriving “places” to develop but which we also know won’t get the mechanics of delivery funded.

Having said all that, perhaps “Placemaking” is in fact the perfect expression….

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