“Placemaking” can be difficult to define…if not impossible to specify. What is it exactly? Many aspects of the craft reside in the imagination, in perception, and involve nuance and context. So how do we know when we have succeeded in making places special? How can we possibly guide others to do something we all share a passion for doing?
These are the challenges GVPN members and directors tackled at our second annual Visioning session held this past spring. We gathered (amid delicious pizza) to share our interpretations, to imagine successes and most importantly, to divine the actions needed to place-make with confidence. Big job, but someone has to do it. (Big pizzas, but someone had to eat them).
We asked ourselves and chewed on a handful of questions intended to expose the heart of this crazy passion share. Like:
What is both positive and possible? What is the end state we seek when we placemake?
Most participants in the session shared their placemaking vision, imagining our community in the future as if describing scenes from a future video.
Imagine this film sequence: A small team of focussed placemakers get grant funding to design and transform an under-used city park space by adding thoughtful seating, good lighting, and maybe even a shelter to allow use on those (few) rainy days.
Or this video slice: A dedicated working group get creative to enliven a dead space, such as one that is temporarily empty, waiting for future development. They turn an empty wall into a movie screen, and surround temporary seating with planter boxes that are later moved elsewhere.
Here’s a scene many would applaud: Placemakers finally get their hands on Centennial Square and turn it into a world-class gathering spot like so many Europeans plazas. The space comes alive and attractive, and makes people want to be there just for the experience.
Our discussion included many other locations and needs crying out for the placemaking treatment, but you get the idea.
Another question generated lively conversation: What actions are required to make this vision a reality? What specific things can we do?
The animated debate on this topic basically fell into two camps. First, there is common agreement that GVPN serves well as a facilitation group. We help individuals and small groups access funding to undertake placemaking projects. We seek to inspire and empower. Every resident should feel like a placemaker. We can build enthusiasm for projects by sharing stories from the local community and elsewhere, and by connecting project groups with other similar organizations, like garden experts.
The other camp is hungry to ACT. We GVPN members want to actually do placemaking, not only encourage others to engage in it. Let’s have projects where we meet other GVPN members! There is nothing more satisfying than working shoulder-to-shoulder with others who share a passion for change, for growth, for sanity. Let’s host some social events, such as scavenging hunts, Jane’s Walks, or bike tours to prove that placemaking need not be limited to a physical design. Let’s help neighbourhoods map their environment and imagine improvements.
All roads to placemaking success take the route of increasing awareness. Local residents and businesses must become mindful of the placemaking opportunities that surround them, and of how our organization can help. We must raise our profile by demonstrating that “placemaking is easy.” We could make and distribute bookmarks through our Little-Free-Library project that identify GVPN, what we do, and how anyone can be a placemaker. We can partner with the “Amazing Places” podcast and local news media to share our vision and skills. Most important of all, we need to get the stories out about what people are doing locally. Those are the way we will succeed.
Which brings us back to the original question: How will we know if we succeed?
One member of our Visioning group summed it up for most of us by borrowing a phrase once used by a US Supreme Court Justice, back in 1964. He applied this concept to a case dealing with obscenity, a subject that is subjective and lacks clearly-defined parameters…much like placemaking. His conclusion? “I know it when I see it.” It seems to apply to placemaking, as well.
In conclusion, we discovered such power in sharing ideas among like-minded and passionate members that we decided to do it again. You’re invited. Pizza included.
Do you share a passion for Placemaking, and want to get involved?
You can send us a note using the Contact form here and we will get back to you as soon as possible.
Guest Author Bio
Jim LaMorte Jim brings an Urban Planning background and 40 years of consulting in emergency preparedness to the GVPN. He loves projects that turn public spaces into places where strangers can get to know each other, breaking the barriers between social silos. After growing up in Los Angeles, he is dedicated to repairing the damage done to communities by worshipping the car. Among many people and texts of inspiration, the book “Happy City” by Charles Montgomery continues to offer guidance. Jim has contributed to several GVPN projects, including boulevard gardens, street paintings, block parties, and building portable street furniture. Jim enjoys living in and building the North Jubilee neighbourhood.