Urban parks are all too often overlooked or taken for granted as opportunities for cities, towns and regions to enhance the value of their unique and irreplaceable resources, which set them apart as places where people love to live. In truth, investing in parks as community assets is an important economic development strategy that will help a city or town stay competitive in the 21st Century.
Placemaking differs from traditional park master planning because its principal goal is to create a place that attracts a wide variety of people and an experience that makes them return again and again throughout the year. When design solutions are developed too early and parks are treated as aesthetic objects, the result is often a space that is pleasant to look at but that few people use. People might visit once, but find there are few activites to engage them, which makes them less likely to return.
In contrast, PPS’s Placemaking approach starts from the premise that successful public spaces are lively places where the many functions of community life take place, and where people feel ownership and connectedness — true common ground. In short, we strive to create places where people want to be. A large park should have at least ten distinct destinations within it, and each of these should have many different ways to use it. By clustering activities within the destination, they build off each other and create a vibrant destination within the park. We call this idea the Power of Ten and it is a powerful framework for revitalizing a park and its surrounding district.
To create a park as a destination, PPS works with the community around the park and other stakeholders in a Placemaking process to engage and excite city and civic leaders about the untapped potential in their parks. We then engage residents and partners to develop ideas and work collaboratively to realize this potential.
The results of a Placemaking approach to park planning are evident in the major success stories that pay themselves back many times over through the value they bring. For example, the inspiring vision for Discovery Green Park in Houston, Texas was developed through a series of Placemaking Workshops in which members of the community identified the activities that would cause them to use the Park in the future. This process also helped attract unprecedented levels of funding from private foundations and donors. Since it opened in April 2008, one million people have visited the park and there has already been a massive reinvestment in the area, creating an entirely new district where people want to live in downtown Houston.
Smaller parks can have a similar impact on cities and neighborhoods. A recent example is Emancipation Park, also in Houston in an historic African American residential neighborhood close to the downtown. Residents, community groups and local universities envisioned the park as a vibrant destination that would become the heart and soul of their neighborhood, where local people could find daily inspiration in the culture and history of their community. They believed it could stand as a living monument to the Emancipation and to African American history and the rebirth of a significant black neighborhood.
These and other community-driven efforts to make towns and cities more livable are central to the vision of Placemaking, and make up an important part of Project for Public Spaces’ work around the world.