COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space

Centering Equity at Placemaking Week

Annah MacKenzie
Sep 25, 2019
Oct 2, 2019

With the 3rd International Placemaking Week just around the corner, we’ve been thinking a lot about the many ways the conference’s theme of equity and inclusion has informed not just the content of the event, but also its entire organizing structure. In true placemaking fashion, we are certain that the process of co-creation and collaboration that has emerged in the planning of this event will prove to be just as valuable as the end result!

From the very beginning—from fielding host city bids to navigating the overwhelming response to our call for proposals—it became clear to us that issues of equity were also top-of-mind for all of you. Our partners in Chattanooga knew early on, too, that they wanted to focus on equity and inclusion as the core theme of the conference. But they also recognized very quickly the challenges involved in developing a truly equitable planning process—whether you’re planning a conference or a citywide placemaking campaign.

A pop-up community engagement activity in Chattanooga. | Photo Courtesy of the Entreprise Center

“We formed the Local Host Committee to discuss openly how Chattanooga has utilized placemaking in its own cultural renaissance, but also where these practices have fallen short,” the Committee notes in their collective statement on equity. “Does everyone benefit equally from past and current efforts? What can we learn from ourselves and the global community about how to be most equitable in placemaking efforts moving forward?” 

To help answer these questions, we have worked hard with the Local Host Committee to make sure this event is truly inclusive, and that it reflects the character of Chattanooga itself. Indeed, since we launched the first Placemaking Week in Vancouver in 2016, Project for Public Spaces has been committed to improving the places in which the conference is held, and to ensuring that the spirit, ideas, and energy generated at the Placemaking Week will have a lasting impact on the host cities.

There are a number of ways we worked to ensure that the Chattanooga community and its unique mix of skills and concerns feature front and center—whether that’s by hiring local vendors and businesses to contribute to the event, by choosing community spaces over large hotels and convention centers, or by organizing a free local program alongside the conference to invite the public in and fundraising to offer scholarships for local residents who would otherwise have been unable to attend.

During Placemaking Week, a number of free and public activations and conference sessions will taken place in Miller Park, pictured above. | Photo courtesy of River City Company

It wasn’t always easy, to be sure, but the result is that we have a phenomenal event that doesn’t skirt around difficult issues, and which truly represents and celebrates Chattanooga. What’s more, because of these efforts, conference participants will get an up-close and intimate look at the city’s strong sense of community, its deep history of placemaking, and its innovative public space efforts. And while the 3rd International Placemaking Week will showcase the energy and identity of Chattanooga, the ideas and issues we will explore throughout the jam-packed week of sessions, workshops, and off-site events will be broadly applicable, both locally and globally. 

Here is just a small sampling of sessions at Placemaking Week that center equity in their explorations of placemaking, innovation, and community development:  

1. Harnessing Transiency: How to Co-Create Spaces with Immigrant Communities

This mobile workshop will explore three immigrant-focused community projects that are transitioning to new spaces in Chattanooga, including a neighborhood-led outdoor space, a Latinx community center that is expanding to serve a growing demographic, and a mobile community arts organization establishing roots in a permanent location. Collectively, these projects reach 25,000 residents per year.

2. Processing Painful Histories: Approaches for Place-Based Healing

This session will unpack the ways in which fraught public spaces, such as former slave auctioning sites, can be a powerful prompt for urban equity conversations. Using Confederate Monuments as a starting point, participants will explore how unacknowledged and/or unresolved painful histories prevent people of color and other marginalized communities from enjoying public spaces. The discussion will also highlight placemaking interventions for engaging diverse stakeholders around issues of intergenerational trauma, emotional safety, inclusion, and healing.

3. Design Your Neighborhood: Teaching the Next Generation of Placemakers

Design Your Neighborhood (DYN) is a Nashville-based youth education initiative of the Nashville Civic Design Center that engages the next generation in issues of the built environment. Through classroom curriculum and extra-curricular programs, DYN teaches the principles of place-based design and civic engagement in order to support youth to have a more powerful voice in shaping their city. Focusing on how to bring youth-driven placemaking to communities, this workshop will explore case studies of extra-curricular program implementation in both rural and urban settings.

4. Cross-Cultural Partnerships and Honoring Indigenous Knowledge

This hands-on workshop considers how Indigenous teachings, protocols, and ways of knowing can be honored through placemaking. To explore these themes, speakers will share Māori principles that inform placemaking practices: the importance of whanaungatanga (belonging), manaakitanga (hospitality), tūrangawaewae (a place to stand), and kaitiakitanga (guardianship). Participants will also look at a case study of Reconciliation at work in the community of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada—where several installations, events, and initiatives by a group called “Reconciliation Saskatoon” are creating change in their city.

5. When Public Spaces are Unjust: Placemaking to Promote Livability and Inclusion

How do you create a place that is comfortable, inspired, and thriving when the people that live there have lost all desire to engage? This session will explore placemaking strategies for the greening and re-naturalization of degraded public spaces in Ado-Ekiti—where public spaces are often developed into commercial structures without permission—and Port Elizabeth, where public spaces are often misused or degraded. Against this background, this session looks to understand the causes and effects of encroachment and inequitable use of public spaces in cities.

Annah MacKenzie
Annah MacKenzie
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COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space