COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space

2015: The Year in Placemaking

Dec 21, 2015
Dec 14, 2017
Our true a world built from the bottom up by competent citizens living in solid communities, engaged in and by their places.

- David W. Orr
The Plaza at Harvard | Photo by PPS

Our fortieth year at Project for Public Spaces was an exciting one, and it took us all over the world, from the public markets of Barcelona to Stockholm’s City Hall. For some time, placemaking was a strong but “quiet movement.” But after the year we just had, we think it’s safe to say that the secret is out.

This year marked the first in our five-year partnership with the prestigious Brookings Institution, with whom we launched the Bass Initiative for Innovation and Placemaking - a program that will have a great impact on how we understand and shape innovation in places around the world. We will continue our intensive research into 2016 as we build a toolkit for districts to audit their assets, issues, and opportunities in terms of innovation and quality of place.

Due to the steadfast work of participants and scholars at our Future of Places conference series (with UN-Habitat and Ax:son Johnson), place and placemaking will take center stage in the post-2015 Urban Agenda, with the successful adoption of Goal 11 – known as the “city goal” – in the final document. This goal calls for “sustainable, inclusive, safe and resilient cities and human settlements,” and its inclusion marks “a milestone in the history of the United Nations,” explained Raf Tuts, UN-Habitat’s head of urban planning and design.

In 2015 PPS also hosted the hugely successful 9th International Public Markets Conference in Barcelona (see the resulting Declaration, and watch our video here). Then, November brought the perfect culmination of an eventful year, as PPS, along with our partners National Main Street Center, organized and attended the White House Convening on Rural Placemaking. That’s right: Placemaking in the White House! No longer a “quiet movement,” Placemaking has become a global and resounding cause.

The Honorable Xavier Trias, Mayor of Barcelona, at the 9th International Public Markets Conference | Photo by PPS

More than ever, communities are taking charge and showing an increasing demand for placemaking resources and partnerships. Our Placemaking Leadership Council (PLC) surpassed 1000 members this year, and we hosted the second Placemaking Funders Forum in Brooklyn, gathering diverse organizations to discuss the intersection of placemaking and philanthropy. PPS’s 2015 in-house trainings were completely sold out, while we also led and facilitated over 50 placemaking workshops and trainings in cities across the globe, from Milwaukee and Malaysia to Jerusalem and Jakarta.

To accommodate this demand, we’ve also worked to expand our resources on the PPS website: We’ve added an updated “Great Public Spaces” section, which celebrates some of the most successful and memorable places in our readers’ lives, and we’ve launched robust resource pages devoted to “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper” strategies as well as the “Streets as Places” agenda. Each of these pages offers an ever-expanding list of principles, case studies, and best practices to inspire users to create and support exciting projects in their own communities.

By bringing the transformative power of Placemaking to cities across the United States, our partner Southwest Airlines continues to help raise awareness of Placemaking as an important social cause. The Heart of the Community Program collaborated on six transformative projects this year, and we look forward to the next round of projects, to be revealed early in 2016. We're also excited to announce that, beginning in January 2016, Southwest Airlines will be featuring a different Heart of the Community article every month in Southwest Magazine to highlight these Placemaking efforts. Look for it in the seat-back pocket next time you fly!

Before: Heart of the Community Spotlight: Project Site in Milwaukee, May 20, 2015
After: The Spot 4MKE Milestone Celebration, October 29, 2015


And finally, our founder and president Fred Kent was honored this year with the Dan Sweat Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award by the International Downtown Association, (see Neal Peirce's article here) as well as the 2015 Investors in America award, which he received in October from the Washington DC-based Partners for Livable Communities. (He was also forcibly evicted from a public hearing, but that's another story...) 

There's more in store for 2016:

  • The Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place 19 conference in Vancouver, BC, this September will bring together a diverse and international audience of city planners, transportation engineers, public health professionals, elected officials, community leaders, and professional walking and bicycling advocates.
  • PPS and the National Main Street Center will launch the Cultivating Place in Main Street Communities -  a series of intensive trainings designed to strengthen and expand Main Street’s capacity for implementing placemaking strategies and public space improvements.
  • After successful meetings this year in Montréal, San Francisco, Sydney, Quito, and throughout Brazil, the Placemaking Leadership Council will continue supporting regional events and encouraging members to build stronger dialogue around the specific issues and campaigns affecting their home communities.
  • Based on our popular “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper” resource page, we are creating a new webpage to serve as a hub for case studies and best practices in Arts-Based Placemaking. We are currently compiling a database of case studies and research, and the page will soon develop into a robust toolkit for aspiring or practicing Creative Placemakers across the globe. Stay tuned!

As ever, Project for Public Spaces is committed to changing the way people shape their communities and the public spaces they share, and we have been inspired by the impressive forward motion of the Placemaking movement this year. At its core, Placemaking is a community effort, driven by individual actions and investments of all kinds. Here are a few ways you can get involved now:

  1. Make a donation to Project for Public Spaces and support our work advancing placemaking around the world, or join our Catalyst Circle to make a sustained commitment to our work.
  2. Become a sponsor for one of our important 2015 conferences and meetings, like the Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place Meeting in Vancouver, BC.
  3. Work with us on a project in your community. Contact us to discuss our services and experience on all kinds of Placemaking projects.
  4. Attend one of our trainings in New York and watch our website for other upcoming events.
  5. Apply to join the Placemaking Leadership Council, and join over 1000 passionate advocates for place.
  6. Subscribe to our mailing list and receive our monthly newsletter.
  7. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.

Happy New Year, placemakers, and here’s to another 40 years!

Smores and smartphones at The Spot 4MKE Milestone Celebration, October 29, 2015 | Photo by PPS
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