At Sweco, our buildings, infrastructure, transportation and environmental experts work together to shape integrated, creative and sustainable Placemaking solutions through multi-disciplinary collaboration. Every day, our consultants, designers and engineers combine urban planning, climate adaptation, circular economy, energy transition, active travel and nature-based solutions insights to identify how the built environment can be a lever for transforming society.
What is Placemaking?
The term ‘Placemaking’ is commonly used to describe the evolutionary and collaborative process of shaping or regenerating urban environments to maximise shared value for citizens and inhabitants. It is an approach to urban planning that uses stakeholder ownership of the process, along with community participation, to strengthen the connections between people and places. In some instances, the community may even take ownership of the space, or manage it as a community resource.
A place-based, community-centered approach to urban planning in the public realm
The urban writer and activist Jane Jacobs first championed placemaking in the 1960s, advocating for a place-based, community-centered approach to urban planning together with the socialist and urbanist William H. Whyte. Since then, Placemaking has grown into a multi-disciplinary, holistic approach to the planning, design and management of public realm spaces.
According to renowned social scientist, the late Marc Augé, a place (as opposed to what he defines as Non-Place) can be defined as a space around which an identity is built, which has a history, which forms part of a collective imaginary and which belongs to a spatial and cultural context. Therefore, transforming a space into a place requires a collective process of appropriation and memory creation.
And notably, The Project for Public Spaces (PPS) initiative defines Placemaking as a method that “invites people to collectively reimagine and reinvent urban spaces as the heart of every community to maximize shared value. It facilitates creative patterns of use, considering the physical, cultural, and social identities of a place, as well as the needs of different users”.
Etive Park, Glasgow | Feasibility study and options development for residential green space. Proposed interventions focus: SuDS, active travel, accessibility, facilities for young people. Find out more.
Cuningar Loop Woodland Park – Phase 2 | An urban park opening up public access along the River Clyde and creating spaces for education and art. Find out more.
Harling Drive Cycle Route | Cycleway link design and implementation to encourage active travel centred on placemaking and retrofitted rain gardens. Find out more.
Bridlington Town Centre Seafront | Town centre revitalisation through the design and implementation of a bold public realm and wayfinding scheme. Find out more.
Greengate Square, Salford | Public square design and implementation to establish a vibrant city centre destination with bespoke art and playful water features. Find out more.
Bradford | City centre transformation with a focus on traffic reduction, improved street layout, enhancement of key views, placemaking, sustainable drainage and biodiversity. Find out more.
Placemaking for me refers to a process of planning, designing and managing spaces, typically within urban environment, to create a better quality of life and ultimately develop sustainability across all aspects that the space may be used in – such as in cultural, social, economic, and ecological terms.
Elle Bartleet Carbon Consultant
In addition to simply promoting better urban design in and of itself, Placemaking facilitates creative patterns of use, paying attention to the physical, cultural and social identities that define a place and support its ongoing evolution. To be successful, Placemaking should be a collaborative process between citizens, urban planners and engineers that shapes the city and results in better urban design.
As a construct, Placemaking is essentially a process which seeks to reactivate dysfunctional urban spaces, creating places of collective appropriation by and for the community. Placemaking implies very effective bottom-up democratic processes as strategies of inclusion and citizen participation.
Placemaking is focused on the space between buildings where people will certainly congregate and move, and depending on the requirements potentially also relax, work, eat and play.
The ‘place’ that is made needs to meet these requirements, respect the cultural heritage of the site, location and surroundings and also provide necessary urban functions, such as; movement, servicing, drainage, waste management and utilities. A focus on placemaking can also serve to enhance or reinforce the key characteristics or qualities of an area, and provide a sense of identity or distinctiveness for people who reside in or use the space for different functions.
Paul Collins Director – Environment & Sustainability
The four cornerstones of Placemaking
- Place a value on ‘Place’
First, it is important to define the value of the space as a place, and to identify stakeholders from public, private and civic sectors connected to it, for instance residents, businesses located in the area or cultural, religious and educational organisations.
- Engage the community
Second, the stakeholders are invited to participate in meetings and workshops to evaluate how a space is used and identify issues that can be improved. Placemaking workshops ensure community participation and usually include local officials to discuss specific topics in depth.
- Define the ‘why’
Third, a place vision is developed including a mission or statement of goals shared by the stakeholders, a definition of how the space will be used, and by whom, a description of the intended character of the space and a concept plan for how the space could be designed, including an action plan for improvements.
- Test the vision
Finally, an iterative implementation process for short-term experiments, long-term improvements and city-wide actions determines the outcome. Key to the success of placemaking is keeping stakeholders involved throughout the different steps of the process and adapt the planning and implementation in accordance with relevant feedback and changing circumstances.
Placemaking is simple in its aim…it is about creating spaces where people and wildlife want to be, through designs that work with our environment to both renew and regenerate – with a focus on clean infrastructures and nature-based solutions. At its best, Placemaking reuses the best of what is already available – it’s fundamentally a circular economy concept that invites us to return from wasteful back to resourceful.
Rebecca McLean Sustainability Director – Energy, Water & Environment
Placemaking as a mainstay of the circular economy
The concept of circular economy spans all spectrums of society and is intrinsically linked to a progressive change in society’s habits, moving from a consumer society to a circular society. This broad range of behaviors goes from the household scale to the industrial scale. As we move up the scale, we need a series of collective infrastructures to facilitate the circular chain of transformation.
One of the key scales for this process is the neighborhood scale, where domesticity and community merge in everyday dynamics of belonging, appropriation and collective life. Understanding Placemaking as a practice anchored in this community scale, whereby community building processes can contribute to the creation of productive infrastructures to support everyday life as a strategic element in the circular transition, starting from the needs and specificities of a local context.
From a sustainable transport point of view, Placemaking is about getting to the right starting point from which better places can be built – and for me that is absolutely about tackling motor traffic.
Once we take this fundamental step, we can pause to see how people start to use places and streets once again which allows us to evolve our designs accordingly. Maybe some temporary and moveable chairs in a newly liberated street will show us where people want to sit or perhaps, we can trial some parklets to give an idea about what the place could look like.
Mark Philpotts Walking & Cycling Specialist
Place Study: Taming the streets of Edinburgh for its people
In the east end of Edinburgh, our team of Sweco experts supported the regeneration of the St James Quarter through placemaking interventions that foster increased mobility, active transportation and provide places to meet and enjoy the city.
Sweco combined the technical skills of the transport planning and civil and structural engineering teams with the knowledge of the city. A long-established relationship was built with the City Council to cater for working groups which led the team through the various design and statutory approvals processes.
Sweco also developed multi-modal design solutions which have reclaimed large areas of carriageway for pedestrians and cyclists, future proofed for Edinburgh Tram, incorporated bus infrastructure and retained sufficient traffic capacity to allow the city to function. In addition to this, large areas of new high-quality public realm have been created, providing space within the city environment for people to spend time, host events and move around.
The Sweco team in Edinburgh led the designs to tame the streets surrounding the new St James Quarter in Edinburgh City Centre to transform them from noisy, dirty and unsafe places dominated by vehicles to pleasant and safe streets with priority for people to walk and cycle.
Claire Carr Director – Transport Planning at Sweco in the UK
As an ecologist, it is tempting to consider placemaking solely in terms of biodiversity. However, this approach fails to consider the needs of people, who are the ultimate end users. So, the challenge is designing spaces that work for nature and people, and persuading designers that embedding a ‘nature first’ approach is essential if we are to face the combined challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss and social inequality.
But Placemaking isn’t just about designing physical spaces. It is also about building relationships and creating a sense of community, and it should always be viewed as an opportunity to connect people with nature. When people feel connected to a place, they are more likely to care for it and to work to make it better.
Dr Martin Brammah National Ecology Lead
Inclusive design for social cohesion
The re-thinking of urban areas to facilitate walkability and cycling could, in turn, inspire the creation of parks, squares and public places within neighbourhoods. This has the potential to help bridge the social inequality gap in accessing such facilities, which are not always available for everyone in a car-dependent city. This allows for a more just planning and transport system because not everyone can afford a car. Daily activities would be within walking or biking distance.
This would potentially even out women and men’s differing possibilities to make use of urban amenities and services. Furthermore, research has indicated that residents of walkable neighbourhoods have more social interaction15 and enjoy more physical activities. Social cohesion and inclusion are important to well-being. Proximity between where we live and where we work and socialise creates a stronger connection to the neighbourhood and the local environment.
Placemaking is made up of the collective interaction between many diverse elements and functions. The most successful Placemaking though, is realised by facilitators and co-ordinators who can bring together a collective vision, typically represented by masterplanners, urban designers, landscape architects, architects or Placemaking specialists
Robin Meade Landscape Architecture Lead
Places as an incubator for health and wellbeing
For many years, urban and transport planners have sought to manage and overcome challenges like climate change, pollution, and inequalities. This endeavour includes measures such as densification, urban renewal, transit-oriented development, improved bicycling infrastructure, and mobility management schemes. Last but not least, a major effort has been made to unite urban planning and transport planning.
As Isabelle Putseyes of Sweco Belgium summises, “The idea of the street as an incubator of health and well-being means a space in which the noise, air quality, and other environmental risks are kept below a healthy maximum, in which streets become places to live in and visit as a destination, rather than merely spaces to move through.”
In my view the ‘making of places’ needs to ensure the right environmental conditions – meeting biodiversity requirements, limiting unwanted noise and minimising poor air quality; these are all factors important for well-being. The designer must also be conscious of the changing climate (hotter summers, more intense rainfall), sustainable materials, future adaptability, diverse needs and abilities, safety and resilience and cost of maintenance.
The concept of local living and 15-minute cities or 20-minute neighbourhoods is also a key consideration for design and planning, whereby essential services and facilities are accessible to all.
Jon Moore Principal Consultant – Environment & Sustainability
Placemaking our way towards Net Zero
With most people now living in urban areas – half of the world’s population in fact – cities play an important role in both mitigating and adapting to a rapidly changing climate. To address this, cities around the world are developing net zero strategies to reduce their carbon emissions and protect communities and infrastructure.
But sustainability is not just about reducing emissions. It is also about improving health and wellbeing. As a society, we are realising that, in a just transition, you have to enhance access to employment and transport systems by building a genuine sense of ‘Place’. It’s about improving quality of life as well as reaching climate targets.
To me, Placemaking is working closely with the local community to design and implement spaces that reflect firstly how the space is actually used on a daily basis – is it used as a thoroughfare for people travelling to work, do people use it for recreational purposes? And secondly the identity of the space – is the space traditionally a port, is it known as a diverse or creative space, in other words, is it ‘known’ for something specific?
Dr Katherine Maxwell Technical Director for Net Zero Cities