On a recent flight home between Perth and Brisbane, I watched the new drama / comedy series, Marvellous Mrs Maisel. Whilst marvelling at how wonderfully the series is written, acted and produced, I was part of the way through an episode in the first season when one of my favourite urbanist characters appeared, during a scene where Midge Maisel stumbles upon a protest in a park. I excitedly tapped my partner on the shoulder to interrupt his own viewing. He looked at me half interested, half sleepily from the altitude. “It’s Jane Jacobs, one of the leaders in placemaking!”, I smiled overenthusiastically – I love good urbanism references.

Placemaking is a word, concept and methodology that is becoming increasingly popular in the urban design field. Prioritising people through thoughtful and enagaging design, ‘tactical urbanism’, and other bottom up approaches, it values the active community contribution towards the design of public spaces.

An urban writer and community activist based in New York, Jane Jacobs was one of the pioneers of the placemaking movement (Project for Public Spaces 2018). Researching what causes cities to fail, Jacobs identified ways of thinking that helped create successful communities (Project for Public Spaces 2018). Her ideas and principles centered around an understanding that cities are complex systems, that walkable cities create positive sustainability outcomes, communities should drive change, higher densities improve community connectivity, and local economies and innovative entreprenuerial outcomes are likely when place is prioritised (Project for Public Spaces 2018).

New York itself boasts some great examples of place-centric, community-led projects. A famous example, the High Line, demonstrates the type of outcomes that can be delivered by a grassroots organisation where passion and vision is in abundance. Friends of the High Line was developed to save a disused elevated rail network and return it to the residents of New York (Friends of the High Line 2019). Today, it is an urban garden with a network of paths that allow residents and visitors to traverse the city in a unique and wonderful way. Inspired by the plants that naturally established during the period of disuse, landscape designer Piet Oudolf selected species for the garden (Friends of the High Line 2019) that are place-specific and bring greenery back to the city as though it is a living structure.

Since its establishment, placemaking has evolved into a sub-set of urbanisation that aims to inspire communities and designers to come together to create great spaces. In a world that is changing fast due to urbanisation, climate change and innovation, this seems like a wise goal to aspire to. People will be the driving force of this planet’s future and most of us will live in urban environments. It is critical that we are able to make them ours and be able to enjoy them in a way that nurtures our community. We also need them to be sustainable and adaptable for future generations, and placemaking can play its part in that too.

– a final note, watch Marvellous Mrs Maisel if you can – it really is marvellous.

References / further reading