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With placemaking on the rise should we forget urban design?

In short no. Without buildings creating streets and other public places - placemaking will not be sustainable.

Waterworks Rd, Ashgrove, QLD, AUS: This was an obvious spot for a cafe with Banneton moving in during 2012. The centre was designed and built in a time when we thought more about the pedestrians then the car. Nice wide awning over a broad footpath. Council kindly created a shared space for pedestrians, cyclists and cars all enclosed by a gorgeous fig tree. The cafe owner has created the place through activation of the old buildings originally designed to create streets.Waterworks Rd, Ashgrove, QLD, AUS: This was an obvious spot for a cafe with Banneton moving in during 2012. The centre was designed and built in a time when we thought more about the pedestrians then the car. Nice wide awning over a broad footpath. Council kindly created a shared space for pedestrians, cyclists and cars all enclosed by a gorgeous fig tree. The cafe owner has created the place through activation of the old buildings originally designed to create streets.


Posted by: Andrew Hammonds

Back in 2009, when I first started developing our training modules and workshops in Placemaking and Urban Design, many people wanted me to drop the reference to Placemaking. 'We're only getting our heads around Urban Design. Why complicate it further?'.

Back then I preferred the term Placemaking because it is easier to understand, refers to the outcome and avoids stigmas with design and urban. And this is still the case today. For more information have a look at Urban Design + Placemaking 101.

How quickly the tide turned. I am often asked to drop the urban design as clients want to focus on Placemaking. Participants in our course say 'enough about the buildings - more on the users'.

I am keen to promote Placemaking, without neglecting urban design. We need to enable existing and future users of places - residents, workers, shopkeepers, visitors, etc to create their own places. Yes, Placemakers and Place Managers can help facilitate this outcome.

But...

I like the analogy of the Bunnings carpark. There is no doubt that a Place Manager could run a program of activities, art, events, etc in the carpark and create a temporary place. Indeed this often happens with 'not-for-profits' running sausage sizzles. But clearly this is not sustainable in the long term. Take away the investment and it will revert to being a big carpark - which it always was anyway.

Waterworks Rd, Ashgrove, QLD, AUS: 200m along the same road as the Banneton Cafe a shopping centre designed and built in the last 40 years when the focus is on the car - not pedestrians or cyclists. Retail attitudes to pedestrians are changing here too. In the last couple of years they built this juice bar to relate to the street. Over the top of three carparks! Awning over the footpath would have been the icing on the cake.Waterworks Rd, Ashgrove, QLD, AUS: 200m along the same road as the Banneton Cafe a shopping centre designed and built in the last 40 years when the focus is on the car - not pedestrians or cyclists. Retail attitudes to pedestrians are changing here too. In the last couple of years they built this juice bar to relate to the street. Over the top of three carparks! Awning over the footpath would have been the icing on the cake.

Good urban design can facilitate place creation by the people. As we talked about in Ashgrove, buildings which help create streets through activation, awnings and 'carparking out the back' enable shopkeepers and others to activate the place. With minimal support from Council or other agencies. Placemaking often seems to develop organically in our pre WWII centres which were designed with pedestrians in mind and not cars and hence demonstrate good urban design.

Yes we need to focus on Place Management to activate all the dead spaces in our centres. And yes this will always be important for our event based places like Federation Square. But we still need urban design to use buildings, infrastructure, trees etc to create streets where everyday places can be created organically by the people using them. After all this is a big driver of authenticity. Perhaps this is the difference between Placemaking and Place Management? And a topic for another blog? 

How do you use the terms Placemaking and urban design? 


We generate discussion in our training courses on Placemaking and urban design. While there are common qualities to the places we like, our own views matter. I started this blog to continue this discussion on-line. The Comments section at the bottom of each article provides the opportunity, so don't be bashful. Particularly if you disagree!

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Updated: 20 February, 2016

Written: 19 March, 2013

Additional Information

Introduction to Placemaking and Urban DesignWhat type of Placemaking is best for your situation?

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Place Trends 2015;  Moving from Place-telling to Place-doing;  A Bias Towards ActionDon't Let Placemaking Strategy Become PlanningThe Art of Placemaking - it's an attitudeWhat we can learn from Newcastle PlacemakingThree benefits of Placemaking - inside the Newcastle experienceCreate a Place Proposal in two days?User is king in urban design and placemakingRevealed - the 15 secrets of pacemaking!29 ideas for Council to embed urban design and placemakingSix opportunities to improve our places through prototypingUrban Design and Placemaking is relevant to a lot of peopleDevelopment Assessment (DA) or Place Enabling?Design and the four categories of placemakingThe 4 skills of placemaking

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