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Putting Place First: Placemaking Week Begins in Vancouver

September 13, 2016

This week, the city of Vancouver, British Columbia, is holding Placemaking Week; a gathering of activists, innovators, urban planners and educators from around the world to engage in discussions about community development and ways cities can put place first.

An initiative of Project for Public Spaces (PPS), the hub for the Placemaking movement, the week includes a number of events designed to put theory into practice and foster creative ideas for building happy and socially inclusive cities – all around central spaces.

What does “Placemaking” actually mean? PPS is the driving force behind the idea that communities should be designed around places, as “Placemaking refers to a collaborative process by which we can shape our public realm in order to maximize shared value.” The belief that community members can work together to reimagine and reinvent their public spaces is a main tenent of the Placemaking movement, and according to the organization, an effective Placemaking process is one that recognizes a community’s potential to create “quality public spaces.” Placemaking is not a concept invented by PPS, but one they built on from earlier urban activists and scholars like Jane Jacobs and William H. Whyte.

In the 1950s and 60s, these PPS mentors truly believed and advocated the idea that cities should be designed for the people – not for cars or buildings. In her 1961 book The Death and Life of American Cities, Jacobs famously wrote that “cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody” – a fundamental and current principle of Placemaking philosophy. The Placemaking movement has truly taken off in recent years.

In November 2015, the U.S. Government held The White House Convening on Rural Placemaking, bringing together key state and local public sector officials, national non-profit organizations, foundations, and individuals to discuss how to engage rural communities and build gathering spaces.

In December 2015, the Faire La Place gathering in Montreal brought together over 200 activists, educators, community designers and innovators to help drive Placemaking thinking in Canada. Placemaking labs, workshops and training sessions are also organized regularly in the U.S. and Canada in order to promote the community-building philosophy. As Placemaking ideals gain momentum in North America, it is important to recognize indigenous involvement, as the roots of the Placemaking movement can be found in the earliest human occupations.

In an overview and action report on Canadian Placemaking, Cities for People explain that “an icon, a totem, an Inukshuk was a shared phenomenon and actualized the spirit of undertaking jointly” – much like modern-day city Placemaking with parks, monuments, and more. The organization insists that Placemaking discussions must take into account that indigenous people were the original Placemakers, as they did not separate themselves from their environment or settlements. Based on this recognition of the past and a hope for the future, PPS has partnered with a number of organizations in order to bring an entire week of Placemaking discussions and activations to Vancouver, including the UN-Habitat, Community Foundations of Canada and Evergreen, among others.

Two major events will take place during the week: the Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place conference from Sept 12-15 and the Placemaking Leadership Forum from Sept 14-17. Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place is an annual gathering bringing together professionals from the walking, biking and Placemaking fields to build a “community of practice” based on the belief that walking and biking builds strong and healthy communities. The Placemaking Leadership Forum encourages a discussion of how “public space is located at the intersection of many global issues” and explores an agenda that involves many Placemaking topics including Place Governance, Innovation Hubs, Architecture of Place, Healthy Places, Equity & Inclusion, Transportation & Streets as Places, Market Cities, Sustainability & Resilience, Rural Communities, and Creative Placemaking.

The Future of Places Summit will also be the lead event of the forum and will focus on finding “tangible methods with which international practitioners and policymakers can advance placemaking both locally and globally.” Bringing together global leaders and educators, Placemaking Week will be the world’s largest placemaking event to date and will help to guide a new generation in community building and inclusive city development. The Placemaking movement promotes social connectedness via public space, and PPS’ regular, organized professional gatherings foster this inclusive community ideology.

If you are in Vancouver, be sure to check it out, or follow Project for Public Spaces on Twitter (hashtag #placemakingweek) to join the conversation.