Successful place-making is important for several reasons. By creating places where people feel good, they are more likely to want to stay, to return and to tell others about the experience. The differences between ‘just a regular public space’ and a ‘great pubic place’ can be viscerally felt by people – a sense of welcome, of belonging, of pleasure and of sharing. Rarely does this happen overnight. A local neighbourhood is just a group of houses and streets until there are people who take pride in place and who call it home. The difference between space and place is like the difference between ‘house’ and ‘home’. Many tangible and intangible elements combine to create a sensory experience that is memorable.
In times past, when settlements grew over time from agrarian communities to hamlets, cantons, or villages, to townships to towns and eventually to cities and metropolises, a sense of place either evolved or didn’t – rather by chance. Today, towns and suburbs are planned, designed and regulated for all manner of reasons – public health, safety, efficiency and economy. In the developing world, that pace of urbanisation is now so accelerated that there is little time to evolve and even less margin for error. The learnings and experiences of place-makers around the world can help reduce that margin for error.
Place-making takes even more things into account in this process. And most importantly – good place-making demands that we consider the end-users by inviting them into the conversation – not as a token inconvenient box-tick but as an important part of the design process. For many in the design and planning professions this is known as ‘integrated design’, and it must be more than mere lip-service to a set of ‘box-ticks’ – the ideas and aspirations of the intended end-users are valid and deserving of consideration and not just background ‘noise’ to ‘expert’ solutions.
Whether it be creating a new suburb or township from scratch, or redeveloping a blighted site in a city or a town, place-making requires decision-makers to have genuine regard for longer-term success – the social, cultural, environmental and economic sustainability of the place. To achieve this, it is a beholden upon developers and bureaucrats, politicians and marketeers to build consensus where possible, and to engender anticipation through participation among the communities of interest that will be users and advocates for their place-making efforts.