Public life was all but stamped out of communities throughout Eastern Europe during the years of Communist domination. Now, as democracy emerges throughout the region—and the pitfalls of Western-style development along with it—there is still a widespread suspicion about "planning" left over from the Soviet era. That's why PPS's Placemaking approach--featuring a participatory, community-led process--has proven so powerful in improving public spaces, and reinvigorating a spirit of civic engagement in these young democracies.
PPS first journeyed to Eastern Europe in 1993 at the request of the Environmental Partnership, a Czech foundation. Vice President Steve Davies helped communities in five Czech towns bring back traditional public activities such as festivals, markets, and civic events. This paved the way for a demonstration project beginning in 1994, funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the German Marshall Fund, to initiate Placemaking efforts in seven historic Czech villages in partnership with local citizens groups.
PPS's impact on these towns was so great that the Environmental Partnership asked us to help create the first country-wide Placemaking program, called the Partnership for Public Spaces. Today, this "Czech PPS" brings the Placemaking ethic to communities throughout the Czech Republic--sponsoring workshops, translating information about public spaces into Czech, and leading projects as varied as cleaning up streams in tiny villages to revitalizing a major plaza in Prague.
The popularity of Placemaking has spread across national borders. In Croatia, where plans are being readied for another country-wide Placemaking program, the Prime Minister honored PPS last June for its work helping youth improve key public places in the city of Rijeka. PPS made a splash in Serbia this year, helping to create the first organic farmers market in the main square in the city of Novi Sad. And PPS held its first workshops in Montenegro this November, whetting the appetite for Placemaking there. These efforts illuminate the power of public places to restore civic pride in post-Communist societies and to help heal the wounds of war and ethnic strife.