Almost four decades ago, we created the Project for Public Spaces to expand the work of the great urbanologist and observer of public spaces, Holly Whyte. The way that public spaces were being conceived and designed then was disconnected from the reality of how people used them, yet there was surprisingly little resistance. Today, in contrast, we are witnessing a convergence of advocates, activists, fathers, mothers, citizens, neighbors, friends — those we call the “zealous nuts” — all coming together around the idea of place.
I have seen this happening in so many ways in 2012. In my conversations with attendees at Pro Walk/Pro Bike: Pro Place and at the 8th International Public Markets Conference, I heard advocates for local food, public health, and active transportation speak repeatedly of the desire to work with more broad-based, multi-faceted coalitions. They realized during their respective conferences that deeper, transformative change can be brought about across movements through a renewed focus on the idea of place.
This is not just a trend in the United States, but a global movement for our rapidly urbanizing world. We are honored to be joining with UN-Habitat and the Ax:son Johnson Foundation in Sweden to launch a series of international forums to plan how public spaces can be a core agenda for Habitat III in 2016. There is ever more evidence of a growing consciousness around the process of Placemaking. Grassroots advocates have been demanding a larger role in shaping their cities, with increasing success. This resulted in a number of exciting new developments in 2012:
- We’ve had the opportunity to work on the reclamation of iconic public spaces like the New Haven Green, the campus of Harvard University, the Alamo Plaza in San Antonio, and the Woodward Avenue corridor in Detroit.
- We partnered with the Orton Family Foundation, Deliberative Democracy Consortium, Grassroots Grantmakers, National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation, New America Foundation, and Strong Towns to launch the CommunityMatters partnership.
- We’ve worked with major cultural and civic organizations to bring culture and art out into the streets, in places like the Houston Public Library’s central downtown plaza and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
- And speaking of art, we were selected to lead the National Endowment for the Arts’ Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design.
- Our focus on public markets has continued to expand through work on the Halifax Seaport Farmers Market, ByWard Market in Ottawa, and San Antonio’s Pearl Brewery district. Meanwhile, the NewBo City Market, a brand new indoor market we helped plan, opened in Cedar Rapids this October, helping to revitalize this Iowan city after a devastating flood.
- The PPS Transportation department has continued with its stewardship of the Context Sensitive Solutions program, and launched a series of wildly popular webinars in partnership with the Federal Highway Association.
While we used to fight for each small win, the importance of re-focusing our communities on place is being realized at higher and higher levels every day. It is at this critical point in the growth of the Placemaking movement that we are preparing for a shift into more proactive advocacy and network-building work. We know that our network of extraordinary people is our greatest asset, and we have spent the past several months preparing for the launch of a Placemaking Leadership Council.
This Council will accelerate the gathering of many voices and, through a series of convocations over the next several years, define a series of actions related to 1) re-centering transportation so that it helps to builds communities, 2) strengthening local economies through dynamic public markets, 3) building neighborhoods with centers that are true multi-use destinations, and 4) advocating for a new architecture of place. Our first meeting will take place in Detroit this coming April. The “transformative agendas” shaped by the Council will play a key role in the discussion that will take place at the forums we’re organizing with Ax:son Johnson and UN-Habitat.
Please email Lauren Masseria if you are interested in participating, or click here if you would like to make a year-end donation in support of this new stage in our evolution.
In the middle of the 20th century, the power to shape our public spaces—a power that I consider a fundamental human right—was taken away from us. I have watched for years as people have fought to take it back. The Placemaking Leadership Council is a critical next step, filling the need for a central forum for debate and discussion of strategies and tactics for re-establishing a focus on creating better places at a global scale. On behalf of everyone at PPS, I thank you for all that you do to make the places and spaces in your community stronger. 2013 is going to be the year of the Zealous Nut! We’ll see you there!