People, Process and Place. Three tried and tested principles for shaping neighbourhoods.
A Landscape Architect by training, I stumbled across placemaking somewhat by accident. But I remember the moment my search began. I was a sitting at my desk in a high rise office in Melbourne (great view, by the way) and was asked to design a masterplan for a town in India. By Friday.
At that time I’d never been to India. I knew I couldn’t possibly a design a place that was meaningful or relevant to the people who would one day live and work there from 10,000km away. I knew there had to be another way.
After a turn at international development, working on participatory development projects in SE Asia with UN-Habitat and others, I returned to Australia, keen to apply my newly found insights in community-led neighbourhood development. I co-founded CoDesign Studio and placemaking became the vehicle. With the support of many volunteers, mentors and forward thinking clients we started experimenting with collaborative approaches to neighbourhood development. Then one thing led to another, and now we’ve worked in more than 100 neighbourhoods.
We’ve had great successes, like local residents organising to trial a dog park which demonstrated clear community support and gave council confidence to invest in a permanent dog park. Or closing a street to create a park for a summer, through which neighbours who had lived in the same street for 8 years, met for the first time and are now good friends.
There have been many bumps along the way, but the biggest lesson has been that placemaking is so much more than the physical place. So much more than design. It’s a collaborative process of leveraging local ideas and assets, of community development, of establishing governance, of testing ideas and measuring impact. The most significant change in most instances, has not been the design, but the social and economic value created from a stronger community, or a mobilised traders association.
Shaping Neighbourhoods – Placemaking is as much about the journey as it is the destination.
Placemaking is as much about the journey as it is the destination. From our experience at CoDesign Studio, we break down placemaking into three simple, but critical principles: People, Process and Place.
Local communities are experts in their own experience, so that is where we begin.
By leveraging local ideas, assets and opportunities, we can create hundreds of local projects which collectively make up a thriving neighbourhood. These projects build new partnerships, kick-start new clubs and organisations and build community leadership.
This pillar describes the context in which the project operates – how it’s insured, maintained, and governed. How the stakeholders are connected, how it’s funded, how it’s managed – the operating system. A key focus of our work is helping decision makers – local councils and property developers – create the right operating system, or enabling environment, in which placemaking can thrive. If we don’t focus on process and systems first, placemaking projects are unlikely to be successful in the long-term. They might get blocked by a simple insurance issue or fail to establish local capacity to manage the space.
Placemaking transforms local spaces into active places people want to be. By installing community gardens, activating underutilised spaces, creating murals or street art, furniture and other initiatives, local spaces take on a new lease of life. The most successful places are not astroturf and milkcrates (although sometimes these low cost materials can be useful). The most successful places are those that speak to local identity, and are unique because they have the fingerprints of the local community on them.