The essence of place-making is community engagement. It is more than just community consultation: it is genuine engagement and connectedness with individual community members – to a point where they themselves become place-makers of their own making.
It is about creating a culture of participatory and grassroots democracy where the community has direct ownership of the processes and outcomes. This is a huge difference from our current engagement and planning framework, which does the opposite. More and more people (developers, retailers and general public) are seeing the benefits of place-making, both short and long term.
In my experience over a decade and a half, I have seen the benefits to community when time and resources are invested in the placemaking process. The results of this are people having the tendency to linger in a beautiful and comfortable environment, and businesses see the benefits of people staying longer which helps to sustain the local economy. It is a winwin situation.
Creating intransient value
Beautiful and meaningful places and spaces create an intransient value to the locality and a sense of pride to the community. As a result, people spend more time in their community: walking more, buying locally and spending more leisure and play time locally in vibrant mainstreets where there are places to sit, pause, learn, shop, connect and celebrate.
We all know and gravitate towards such places, and yet we keep building ‘empty’ places with little or no sense of ‘spirit of place’. Some would blame globalisation and consumerism on the demise of local communities, where they are reduced to their lowest common denominator – commercial exchange. Some would say that our built environment professionals are too focused on the hardware of place and have neglected the software, the soft skill of place-making.
The current economic crisis, peak oil and climate change have created, in my opinion, an opportunity to change the dominant story and culture to one that nourishes life and nurtures communities. It is a return to the local and the re-localisation of our economies and communities. Our task is to build resilient places and communities that can easily adapt to the many challenges and imminent changes.
Place-making provides a way of seeing the world through a more sustainable filter, and provides a platform to make the necessary changes and move towards sustainable lifestyles and behaviours.
Enlightened developers and councils have utilised the new place-making tools to deliver such environments: Rouse Hill Town Centre in northwest Sydney, Flinders Lane (Degreaves/Centre Way) and Victoria Market in Melbourne epitomize the power of place-making. As part of a larger movement, place-making will play an increasingly important role in healing our urban landscape and leave a positive legacy for the future generations.