Public places play a key role in building community and placemaking can empower local communities to create a sense of “belonging” through place. A new report from Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT examines the interactions between placemaking, community participation, and the expanding ways communities are collaborating to make great public places.
Authored by Susan Silberberg, along with Katie Lorah, Rebecca Disbrow, Anna Muessig, and Aaron Naparstek as a special advisor, the paper “Places in the Making: How placemaking builds places and communities” highlights the importance of people in defining place, a critical aspect that is all too often forgotten by those in architecture, planning, and other related disciplines.
Placemaking today is ambitious and optimistic. At its most basic, the practice aims to improve the quality of a public place and the lives of its community in tandem. Put into practice, placemaking seeks to build or improve public space, spark public discourse, create beauty and delight, engender civic pride, connect neighborhoods, support community health and safety, grow social justice, catalyze economic development, promote environmental sustainability, and of course nurture an authentic “sense of place.’ The list could go on. Many of these attributes have been well documented and well theorized over a half-century of research into what makes a great public place. While these efforts are valuable, the tendency to focus on the physical characteristics has created a framework for practicing, advocating for, and funding placemaking that does disservice to the ways the placemaking process nurtures our communities and feeds our social lives.
The intense focus on place has caused us to miss the opportunity to discuss community, process, and the act of making. The importance of the placemaking process itself is a key factor that has often been overlooked in working toward many of these noble goals. As illustrated by the ten cases highlighted here, the most successful placemaking initiatives transcend the “place’ to forefront the “making.’