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Placemaking

Placemaking is an approach to planning, designing, building and maintaining public spaces in a way that focuses around the people that use and benefit from the space.  Placemaking is more than just building, it includes paying attention to the physical, cultural and social identity of a place.  For many communities, placemaking has been a way to reimagine and renovate their public places.  Placemaking can empower communities to create a sense of belonging and lead to community pride.  Placemaking is another way to build environments that benefit health and well-being.

photo of an artistically painted intersection

What is placemaking?

Placemaking is an approach to planning, designing, building and maintaining public spaces in a way that focuses around the people that use and benefit from the space.  Placemaking is an idea dating back to the 1960s and 1970s when writers and architects described the importance of lively neighborhoods and inviting public spaces designed for people not just cars and shopping centers.  The idea of placemaking was to involve different disciplines working together designing the built environment to accomplish something even better.  The term “placemaking” has been used more commonly since the mid-1990s to convey the importance of emotional attachment to certain places.

What the most important part of placemaking?

People.  In addition to the work of planners, designers and architects, placemaking works best as a collaborative process involving the community.  Community input is perhaps the best way to plan a place.  The community members know how people do and don’t use a place and why people may or may not use a place more often.  When a place represents shared community vision it has value to those people empowering them to support, maintain, promote and protect that place.

What are examples of placemaking?

photo of outdoor courtyard with fountain and benches

To be successful, places need to consider how people use and value the places.  In addition to providing use, places need to be comfortable and safe, have opportunities for social engagement, and provide access and linkage to other places or ways to get to other places.  People tend to stay longer in places that offer a variety of options.  Some elements of successful community gathering places are:

  • plazas,
  • parks,
  • green and open spaces,
  • public art,
  • water fountains,
  • benches,
  • shade, and
  • historical markers.

How can placemaking encourage healthy behaviors?

Place is an important determinant of health.  Places with options for active transportation such as walking, wheeled chair rolling, biking or transit are attractive to many people.  Walking paths, greenways, bike lanes and hiking trails are popular active transportation options.  When active options are in proximity more people tend to participate in healthy behaviors. 

Public places are important meeting places for communities.  This creates social cohesion and improves safety. Socialization is an important part of mental health for many people.

How to get started with placemaking?

photo of public art in Knoxville park

To be successful, places need to consider who uses and values each place.  Some easy and inexpensive things to do to get started with placemaking include:

  • observing who and how a place is used,
  • cleaning up and beautifying the place,
  • considering how safe and comfortable the place feels,
  • asking the community about their ideas for the place,
  • asking the community about what talents they can lend to the place, and
  • partnering with others interested in the same place and community.

Great places are inclusive of all people, have a sense of identity, benefit property values, and even create emotional attachment.

Government partners

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Healthy Places
www.cdc.gov/healthyplaces
BE Active: Connecting Routes + Desintations
www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/community-strategies/beactive/index.html

Tennessee Arts Commission
What is Creative Placemaking?
tnartscommission.org/grants/community-arts-dev/creative-placemaking-grants-competition

Additional resources

Memphis, Tennessee
Downtown Mural Guidelines
www.downtownmemphis.com/downtown-mural-guide

Project for Public Spaces 
What is Placemaking?
www.pps.org/reference/what_is_placemaking

Placemaking Chicago
A neighborhood guide to placemaking in Chicago
www.placemakingchicago.com/about/principles.asp