Placemaking: Not the beginning or end of urban revitalization

Hellloooo Detroiters, PPPers and those of you who absolutely, positively did NOT have a piecaken on Thanksgiving...

                  And you thought you were hip because you knew what a Turducken was... 

                  And you thought you were hip because you knew what a Turducken was... 

Quick Blog Post Summary for my busy PPPers:

Placemaking is often discussed as an end result rather than an interim stage of urban revitalization.  I believe that placemaking is often just the middle chapter, not the final chapter, of a three-act urban revitalization play I call "Placework." 

There are three stages of Placework:

  1. Placeholding;
  2. Placemaking; and
  3. Placegrowing.

It is important we distinguish between placeholding, placemaking and placegrowing because:

  1. The intent of the activities in each phase is different,
  2. The strategies and resources we use in each phase are different, and
  3. The doers and funders are also different.  

If you're working on creating an implementable urban revitalization strategy, you must understand what phase you're in to know what strategy will actually work!


Whether it’s the revitalization of a urban commercial storefront or the regeneration of an urban public space, the goal of most urban revitalization efforts is to GROW the place, not just make it.
— Calvin

Why is Placemaking Often Misplaced?  One of the reasons placemaking is often misplaced (*wink*) is that I believe the wrong people are often hired to lead placemaking efforts, particularly when the strategy for placemaking requires more than urban design or planning efforts.  Another reason placemaking is over-described as an endgame is that it is often attributed only to public realm and public space improvements (see the Wikipedia definition of placemaking), rather than more broadly applied to other activities such as transportation decisions or private sector ground floor retail strategies.  Placemaking is the middle game, not the end game -- sort of like the original Star Wars movies (Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi), were actually the middle three movies of the nine-part Star Wars series not the beginning or the end...

                   The Force Awakens (Episode VII) comes out December 18th, 2015 baby!!

                   The Force Awakens (Episode VII) comes out December 18th, 2015 baby!!

Placemaking is often discussed as an end result rather than an interim stage of urban revitalization.  I believe that placemaking is often just the middle chapter, not the final chapter, of a three-act urban revitalization play I call "Placework." 

There are three stages of Placework:

  1. Placeholding;
  2. Placemaking; and
  3. Placegrowing.
                             A mural, by itself, is only placeHOLDING, not placemaking.

                             A mural, by itself, is only placeHOLDING, not placemaking.

         A mural, as part of a larger effort, can go beyond placeholding and be placemaking. 

         A mural, as part of a larger effort, can go beyond placeholding and be placemaking. 

The High Line, right next to this mural, is a public space amenity with great design and pop-up retail.  Its catalytic effects are placeGROWING, not just placemaking. 

The High Line, right next to this mural, is a public space amenity with great design and pop-up retail.  Its catalytic effects are placeGROWING, not just placemaking. 

Why Should We Care? Does it matter what we call it, and which phase we might be in, when trying to catalyze the regeneration of an urban neighborhood?  Whether it's the revitalization of a urban commercial storefront or the regeneration of an urban public space, the goal of most urban revitalization efforts is to grow the place, not just make it.  When you are growing a place you are creating a robust, functioning and self-sustaining marketplace in all sectors - where market-rate housing does not require government subsidy, the public realm benefits newcomers and old-timers and often generates revenues, and the ground-floor retail is self-sufficient and neighborhood-serving.  An equitably developed place that is growing seeks out new residents, customers and users, while also fitting in some of the longstanding folks who were around before the place grew.  

It is important we distinguish between placeholding, placemaking and placegrowing because:

  1. The intent of the activities in each phase is different,
  2. The strategies and resources we use in each phase are different, and
  3. The doers and funders are also different.  

If you're working on creating an implementable urban revitalization strategy, you must understand what phase you're in to know what strategy will actually work!  I'll give some examples and pictures in the next post. But in the meanwhile, what do you think?  Do you have pictures and project examples that show the differences? Let's discuss!

-- Calvin


Posted on November 27, 2015 .