The value of thoughtful placemaking
Once upon a time, the needs of any new development or housing scheme was simply to create it. The community needs housing, so you build housing. The community needs a new hospital, so you build a hospital. But communities have moved on from the desire to have only their most basic needs met. Any new build or development must now meet an array of needs in order to serve the surrounding community properly. That’s where the value of thoughtful placemaking comes in.
Placemaking can be defined in a number of different ways but it is essentially the process of creating quality places that people want to live, work, learn and play in. This involves a collaborative approach of listening to, and asking questions of, the people of the community to discover their needs, and then shaping the public realm to maximise shared value. Typically, it’s important to pay close attention to the physical, cultural and social elements of a place, which help to define its function and support its ongoing use and adaptation.
As yet though, the potential benefits of placemaking are still largely yet to be seen. In fact, there are misconceptions around placemaking, due to the limited thought that can sometimes go into it. If the same communities and groups of people are continuously overlooked and their needs not met, it starts to seem as though placemaking is designed to benefit only a certain type of resident.
However, this is the result of a lack of placemaking, not of placemaking itself. In order to ensure that we see the right kind of social value from placemaking, it’s about increasing the scope and scale of their efforts.
Done properly, placemaking can create social value in all kinds of ways, from new job opportunities to more green spaces in urban environments. It can bring about better social integration, as well as sustainability efforts in our fight to reach net zero and address climate change.
Perhaps one of the reasons that placemaking isn’t leading from the front on new developments is that the social value it brings about is hard to measure, which is quite the contrast to most other elements of constructing something new. And while we can’t exactly say what value new green space brings to the community it serves, that doesn’t make it any less worthwhile to pursue.
Integration in the community
The importance of social integration is well documented for the mental health and overall wellbeing of residents. And this is an area that presents a unique opportunity for progression, so as to escape the abandoned mental hospital trope.
Ensuring that our health and extra care facilities are carefully woven into our communities is of the utmost importance. Not only does social involvement improve the mental health and wellbeing of the residents, but ensuring that these establishments and their location is carefully considered can lend itself to more job opportunities for local people. Plus, it offers the ability for communal spaces (such as gardens and halls) to have multiple uses to benefit the wider community and continue the social integration for years to come.