Placemaking: giving meaning to meanwhile

In this week’s CT blog, Policy & Research Officer, Mia Rafalowicz-Campbell, discusses an evolving approach to placemaking.

Now the deserved owner of a buzzword badge, placemaking has become somewhat of a cliché.  A sprinkle of deck chairs and some bunting a place do not make. However, that doesn’t make the aims of placemaking – to create public spaces that work for the local community – any less valid. Public space is there to serve people, engage communities, build bridges and networks, and fundamentally improve wellbeing. Aims as grand as these deserve more than a one-shot approach: what’s called for is a slower, considered and evolving process.

deck chairs and cranesPlaceshaping, placemaking, and placekeeping

Earlier this year I attended the Future of London Placemaking conference, where a number of speakers were advocating for placemaking as a multi-stage process. Rather than being about branding or PR opportunities, placemaking should always be about creating public spaces that work for the local community. And that means they need to be well conceived, implemented and tended to. As Kate Swade from think tank and consultancy Shared Assets puts it, there should be three stages: placeshaping, placemaking, and placekeeping. Rushing straight for the making stage might tick boxes faster, but it won’t keep them that way. Creating meaningful and lasting spaces, nay places, is not light work. Every project should be shaped to its direct environment, as emphasised by Robert Evans from Argent (developer of the much-cited Granary Square), who makes sure to point out that no one placemaking approach can be picked up and simply planted elsewhere.

Meanwhile spaces

Another to highlight the need for an evolving approach to placemaking is Tom Bridgman from the London Borough of Lambeth. Speaking about meanwhile spaces, he notes that they work better as a means to an end rather than an end in themselves. In practice this means that they should be part of a bigger picture and wider placemaking goals – and not just about activating space in principle. A case in point is Pop Brixton, which turned disused land into a space for independent local businesses to set up and test the market; this system can then be developed and leveraged into the longer-term Brixton regeneration project. Over on Peckham High Street the Pem People Pop-up shop runs an employment academy and local event space out of an unlet shop temporarily granted to them by London Borough of Southwark. Working with residents and those perhaps harder to reach in the community, the initiative hopes to springboard off the current project and secure a longer-term space, which would create a coherent narrative amongst the rapidly-changing Peckham regeneration project.

Evolving development

When you’re designing a space from scratch on a much larger scale, as in the HCA development of Northstowe New Town in South Cambridgeshire, these lessons are more necessary than ever. With only 90 homes filled of a planned 10,000, the planning and design team are working to ensure they create an engaging and diverse town centre that will both attract potential new residents and engage those already interested. That’s why the team are taking a purposefully evolving meanwhile space approach to their placemaking. Rather than deciding on the exact final composition of all spaces, they are developing various streams of ideas for meanwhile space projects that can be tested and adapted as they develop. It will be important to reassess these spaces at the right time and with the right metrics, and if they get it right they might just create a place that listens to and grows with its users.

Each project is its own animal, with a unique set of conditions and variables, but what’s true of them all is that they form part of a larger local context. Due consideration of how the places we shape, make and keep can work with and for the community must leave some room for those places to evolve and fit into the longer-term fabric of the local environment.

Mia Rafalowicz-Campbell is Policy & Research Officer at Campbell Tickell. For more information or to discuss this article, please contact:Mia@campbelltickell.com

Note: This article first appeared in CT Brief – Issue 32.