The Placemaking Leadership Council (PLC) is a group of do-ers and deep thinkers at the forefront of the Placemaking movement. The council was formed to strengthen Placemaking as an international movement and to support a community of practice for Placemakers working in many diverse contexts.
The work of the Placemaking Leadership Council is organized around the principle of collective impact with Project for Public Spaces serving as a backbone organization and convener for the Council.
Over 400 people from around the world are already members of the Placemaking Leadership Council, and we are still accepting new applications.
The inaugural meeting of the Placemaking Leadership Council took place on April 11-12, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. Council members convened to debate, discuss, share, celebrate and develop goals for a Placemaking campaign. Working groups at the meeting were organized by the agendas listed below. Their discussions have informed the goals that the Council is beginning to work towards.
The inaugural Placemaking Leadership Council meeting in Detroit was structured around seven agendas that have the potential to transform cities by breaking down what Placemaking means and how it can happen. These agendas form a lens through which we can view the greater mission of the Placemaking Leadership Council.
If the ultimate goal of governance is to make communities more prosperous, civilized, and attractive for all people, then government processes need to change to reflect that goal. The challenge is to include rather than to exclude, to share responsibility, and to encourage new modes of integration and regulation based on the public good—not private interests.
Unfortunately, the fractured, siloed structure of contemporary government, with its myriad departments and opaque bureaucratic processes, often directly impedes the creation of successful public spaces. Working together on short-term, low-cost improvements can help build bridges between city agencies as well as to citizens, benefiting long-term implementation and maintenance as well. Through the Placemaking process, governments can set places up to self-manage, and even self-govern, by creating a culture of engagement in the community that supports a given space.
Place Capital can be defined in many ways. Ultimately, Place Capital is the manifestation of our placemaking work. It is the shared wealth (human, social, cultural, civic, etc.) that great places generate spontaneously, or that builds up in successful placemaking efforts. The best public spaces, both in our communities and around the world, can leverage Place Capital by creating lasting attachment, supporting economic and cultural resilience, fostering openness and innovation. Where Place Capital is strong people gladly contribute to the public realm, often changing their behavior in ways that ultimately support the value the place gives to others.
Often, we look to the “usual suspects” as the sources of Place Capital: main streets, downtowns, major parks, urban squares, paths/trails, etc. and they are a critical source. But we must not overlook the “unusual suspects”, the unintended places that occur spontaneously, sometimes as the result of a temporary change or a “lighter, cheaper, quicker” experiment.
Today, people, especially young talent, are seeking communities and cities with Place Capital, where they can in turn contribute to creating sustainable and economically thriving places. Yet we are still learning about Place Capital, the ways to build it and the resources it creates. We must continue this path of discovery to better understand, measure, and cultivate Place Capital as attention increasingly focuses on placemaking.
The United States is suffering from an inactivity epidemic, leading to the increasing prevalence of a host of chronic diseases, from Type 2 diabetes to heart disease. More than two-thirds of adults are considered overweight or obese, while one-third of children and adolescents, or 23 million kids and teenagers, qualify as overweight or obese.
A strong evidence base now proves that the way we have designed our communities, streets, and places—encouraging driving over walking or biking, passive play over active recreation, and ready access to unhealthy foods—has contributed to these troubling trends. Public health challenges in low-resource and low-income communities are often compounded by the presence of wide, fast roads that worsen air quality, endanger those who must cross them, and limit social connections. In order to foster healthier people, we need to have communities and places that encourage and facilitate healthy lifestyles.
In recent years, a growing Healthy Communities movement has helped to direct resources to this effort and to train public health professionals and organizations in how to participate in healthy community design. Given the synergies between the goals of Healthy Communities and Placemaking, we have an important opportunity to build on initial successes and to ensure that each of our disciplines is doing more to create vibrant, healthy communities and places.
Since the early part of the 20th Century, professional planners, designers, and engineers have gotten into the habit of looking at and shaping cities through the lens of single goals or professional disciplines. Individual elements, such as streets, parks, office parks, or schools are no longer thought of in integrated ways to maximize the value of the community as a whole. Nowhere has this specialization and single-mindedness of planning become more evident than in the transportation field.
In the meantime, the American public transportation system went from being the best in the world in 1900 to being overtaken by many European countries by the mid 20th Century. By the 1950s, when massive public investment starting flowing into highways, most of the nation’s transit systems were privately, not publicly owned, and therefore planned independently from communities. Although government interest in funding transit has re-emerged (first at the federal level in the 1960s, and later at the community/city level in the 80s and 90s) planning for transit still remained separate from community building processes.
Increasingly, both community groups and the transportation industry are recognizing the failure of this system. This has given rise to the concept of community based transportation planning. In short, community based transportation planning acknowledges that you can’t build a great community or solve nagging societal problems by planning and designing your transportation, land use, public facilities (e.g. schools), recreation and other elements each in a vacuum.
In his humorous exhibit “The Blank Wall” at the Urban Center in New York City in 1983 and in his books, articles and underlying research, William H. Whyte clearly demonstrated the negative impact of blank building facades on urban life.
Christopher Alexander (Pattern Language), Jane Jacobs (Death and Life of Great American Cities) and others have written extensively about the importance of interactive storefronts and ground floor uses to the social and economic health of a street. However, buildings all over the world, including many public institutions, are still being built with blank ground floor facades.
At the same time, and somewhat under the radar screen of the development and design communities, is a series of innovative efforts that are redefining the nature and function of individual institutions within cities. But these efforts have yet to have a major impact on the way public institutions are designed. For example libraries, schools, post offices and museums are being conceived as very different places than they were in the past. Many of them have cafes, gift shops, training facilities and computer centers all of which have the potential to bring diverse clientele, new income streams and other benefits to both the institution and to the city. The problem is that these uses require much better ground floor access and exposure to the street. In the future, public institutions can become real destinations and places within cities if a new architecture of place is developed.
In the second half of the 20th Century, the economic focus of our communities shifted from “Mom and Pop” stores on Main Street to a Walmart off of a highway exit. This has resulted not only in the physical decline of our downtowns and disinvestment in our neighborhoods, but a loss of local entrepreneurial opportunities as well. We may have more shopping options, but are they the options we want? The growth of virtual and tangible marketplaces, from Etsy.com to farmers markets and pop-up retail, shows us that a vibrant, alternative economy already exists.
In order to have a stronger impact, one that can challenge the status quo, these entrepreneurs need access to the kinds of great, human-scaled places that foster opportunity—and those places, many deteriorated and vacant after decades of neglect, need them. By connecting local entrepreneurs with opportunities to help revive our communities’ shared places, from parks and parking lots to downtown corridors, we can rebuild strong local economies.
We know from experience that what we call “multi-use destinations” (for lack of a better term) are what make cities truly great. Whether Piazza Navona in Rome, Balboa Park in San Diego or Granville Island in Vancouver, these places are more than what we have come to know as a square, a park or a plaza. They are multi-dimensional destinations that offer a variety of experiences for a variety of people. They create strong economic synergy. And the best are self-managed and self-programmed. They delight or challenge all of our senses, going beyond purely visual gratification, taking us out of ourselves to connect us to a physical place that reverberates beyond its boundaries and to a larger human community as well.
At the conclusion of the Detroit meeting, we asked participants to tell us how they wanted to personally be involved in the Placemaking Leadership Council to advance the cause of Placemaking. These areas of potential involvement fall into three overlapping categories:
Placemakers want to make places, so our impacts can be very visible and physically tangible. Some PLC members want to take what they learned in Detroit and apply it to any number of types of places in their communities. They also want to collaborate with other PLC members on these projects.
Whether it’s through writing an article or contributing to a resource center, there is much interest in going beyond individual actions to share accomplishments with other PLC members and the broader public. We can publicize and promote these new places broadly through the lens of a broader Placemaking agenda.
Other PLC members have expressed a stronger interest in helping to build a broader agenda to address a specific type of place—or field of practice—in which they have broad experience. Working more closely with PPS around these agendas, which form the core of our work, can help us all achieve greater impact and change than working in isolation to each other. For example, conducting, participating in, and publishing research or helping to develop toolkits and guides to further these Placemaking agendas will help expand the movement beyond specific places to achieving underlying changes in policies and practices:
- Architecture of Place: Taking Design Practice to the Next Level to Support Better Places
- Transportation: Leveraging Transportation Investments to Build Stronger Communities
- Entrepreneurial Places: Markets, Main Streets and Beyond
- Multi Use Destinations
The freewheeling and engaging discussion at the inaugural meeting of the Placemaking Leadership Council in Detroit has enabled us to get a good start on achieving a common understanding of the issues and challenges facing Placemaking broadly, and creating a foundation for a five year campaign for Placemaking, especially around these cross-cutting issues discussed in Detroit:
- Place Capital: Capturing the Benefits of Placemaking
- Healthy Places: Using Placemaking to Address Today’s Health Challenges
- Place Governance: Restructuring Government and Civic Engagement Around Placemaking
- Low-Income Communities: Keeping Placemaking Inclusive
In our summary report, PPS did not attempt to uncover a “magic bullet” or to distill all the ways we can advance Placemaking as a broader movement. Rather, we tried to articulate the broad challenges facing Placemakers as identified in Detroit, and propose joint goals for addressing these challenges:
- Clearly frame the value and “language” of Placemaking, and develop a collective messaging plan
- Develop a common set of standards and indicators, and measure the good work we are already doing
- Build the capacity of local leaders to make change and keep Placemaking inclusive
- Revamp the process and structure of governance to facilitate Placemaking
- Refine the structure, goals, and campaigns of the PLC
Council Members (A-Z)
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The inaugural meeting of the Placemaking Leadership Council took place on April 11-12, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan.
Why Detroit? According to Jeanette Pierce, the Director of Community Relations for D:hive, Detroit is “big enough to matter in the world, but small enough that you can matter in it.” The city is becoming a model for Placemaking in downtowns and neighborhoods alike.
In downtown Detroit the 2.5 acre, $20 million, Campus Martius Park has become a magnet for the revival of the city and has attracted millions in new investment in the blocks around it. In neighborhoods across Detroit residents are using Placemaking strategies to strengthen their communities.
Within this inspirational setting, over 300 people from around the world met to debate, discuss, share, celebrate, and develop goals for a Placemaking campaign.
The working groups at the meeting were organized around the following seven agendas:
- Building Community through Transportation: Leveraging transportation investments to build stronger communities
- Creating Multi-Use Public Destinations
- Entrepreneurial Places: Markets, Main streets, and Beyond – The role of Placemaking in advancing local entrepreneurship
- Place Capital: Capturing the benefits of Placemaking
- Architecture of Place: Taking design practice to the next level to support better places
- Healthy Communities: Using Placemaking to address today’s health challenges
- Place Governance: Restructuring government and civic engagement around Placemaking
In addition, an eighth self-organized working group explored strategies and opportunities for Placemaking in low-income communities.
Read the full Detroit summary report or see the following PPS blog posts for more information about the inaugural meeting and how PPS is supporting Placemaking initiatives throughout Michigan:
Please review the five criteria below to see if you might be a good fit for the Placemaking Leadership Council. If you meet several of these criteria, we encourage you to apply for membership in the Council. We will review applications monthly.
1.) You know about and understand Placemaking. You’re well-versed in the movement’s history and can appreciate the uniqueness of the current moment. You understand that Placemaking is a process, not an outcome.
2.) You understand and agree with what we are trying to achieve. You get that the Council isn’t about making money or networking but rather working with like-minded individuals to drive large-scale culture change to put place at the heart of public discourse.
3.) You have substantial experience with on-the-ground projects and initiatives. You’re driven, and you’ve got a few success stories under your belt–and probably even some failures that you’ve learned a great deal from. We’re looking for people who don’t just think about how to create great places; they roll up their sleeves, head on out, and do it themselves.
4.) You think holistically about place. You’ve worked on a variety of different projects, and you understand how various (sometimes unexpected) pieces fit together to create a great public destination. The term “silo-busting” gets your feet tapping.
5.) You have your own networks and organizations. You’re not a rock or an island. You have a track record of working with people from different backgrounds, disciplines, and communities, and you understand how important unlikely partnerships are to successful Placemaking.