COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space

Our Top 10 Articles of 2019

Dec 13, 2019
Mar 30, 2020

As the countdown to the New Year begins, we always take the opportunity to check the pulse of the placemaking movement. We love to look back at what we have written over the past 12 months, and more importantly, at what you, dear reader, found most interesting.

Our 10 most popular articles of 2019 showcase a wide variety of topics and geographies, from street improvements in the informal settlements of Nairobi, Kenya, to illustrating community visions in Valentine, Nebraska. Two themes stand out on this list, however: the intersection of transportation and placemaking, and the need for practical strategies to put equity and inclusion into practice in public space.

As we roll into 2020, we are certain that these themes will only continue to grow in importance, especially at our upcoming Walk/Bike/Places conference in Indianapolis, Indiana, next August. Read on to revisit some of the biggest stories of the year!

But first...

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Photo Courtesy of the Chattanooga Convention & Visitors Bureau.

1. A Playbook for Inclusive Placemaking (Series)

“Unlike theory, practice is never perfect. But in every placemaking project, we can always push to include more people, to listen more closely, to share more power, and to follow through more fully.”

— Katherine PeinhardtNate Storring, Project for Public Spaces

As inequality in the US and around the world reaches new heights, we have heard a growing demand from placemakers for practical tools to ensure that the costs and benefits of public space are broadly and equitably shared. This collaboration between Project for Public Spaces and EMI Strategy boils down a survey of placemaking research and practice into a series of four articles on inclusive approaches to community engagement, programming, design, and management.

Photo by Jorge Láscar.

2. The Key to Safe Streets: Five Cities Humanizing Street Design

“Perceived safety is contextual and highly dependent on the built environment of a given community. It is affected by the various complex and individual parts of a person’s experience of a city, like gender. It is only through in-depth community outreach, focused on improving streets for everyone, that we can begin to confront the global road safety epidemic.”

Katherine PeinhardtNidhi Gulati, Project for Public Spaces

In the face of a damning new report on road safety from the World Health Organization, our transportation team rounded up five examples from cities around the world that are improving both road safety and public perceptions of safety by treating streets as the public spaces they are. Read more. 

Photo courtesy of the Innovation District of Chattanooga.

3. Placemaking Week Comes to Chattanooga in 2019

“This is Chattanooga. It’s ambitious, it’s fiercely local, and it’s small enough to get everyone in a room together.”

We were ecstatic to bring our 3rd International Placemaking Week conference back to the U.S. this year, and what better place to do so than Chattanooga, Tennessee? In this article, we explored this mid-size city’s long history of placemaking, its unique approach to innovation, and its willingness to open up about its quintessentially American legacies of inequality. Read more.

Want to learn more about what happened at the 3rd International Placemaking Week? Read the conference report.

Comical mockup by Street Plans.

4. Making Cities More Exclusive with Tactical Suburbanism

“Now, using this lighter, quicker, cheaper approach, communities can make their own streets hostile to pedestrians and public life, virtually overnight.”

Laura Torchio, Deputy Director of Transportation, Project for Public Spaces (Not really.)

At Project for Public Spaces we like to use April Fools’ Day not only as an opportunity for our writers to have some fun, but also for pointing out the foibles of architecture, planning, and public space management that just won’t go away. This year, we joined forces with our friends at Street Plans to denormalize all of the exclusive ways that we continue to design everyday suburban streets by imagining what it would feel like if these design elements popped up overnight through tactical urbanism. Read more.

Photo by Halkin/Mason Photography, courtesy of Drexel University.

5. Placemaking and the Evolution of Innovation Districts

“The new innovation districts will be more like the market districts of a hundred years ago than the financial district of fifty years ago.”

Ramon Marrades, Chief Strategy Officer, La Marina de València

A new report from the Global Institute on Innovation Districts revealed a growing recognition of the importance of placemaking, programming, and place management to these hubs of research and entrepreneurship. As more and more would-be innovation districts spring up everywhere from suburban America to Asia’s megacities, this human-scale research is an important antidote to the tendency of these plans to repeat the corporate bigness and over-engineered automobility of day’s past. Read more.

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6. How a Humble Bus Stop Can Anchor a Whole Neighborhood

“A bus system’s stops and stations can and should serve a multitude of functions themselves and be surrounded by everyday destinations beyond just transportation infrastructure.”

Nidhi Gulati, Program Manager, Project for Public Spaces

This September, Project for Public Spaces launched its Portals to Places Initiative, which seeks to help communities transform their transit stations and stops into hubs of activity that support the daily needs of people who rely most heavily on transit for physical and social mobility. In this article, the initiative lead Nidhi Gulati explains some of the transportation equity challenges facing our cities today, and the missed opportunity of transforming our transit portals into places. Read more.

7. How to Turn a Place Around: A New Edition of the Book that Started the Placemaking Movement

“It’s hard to explain something as simple as a good public space—what it is, how it functions, and how people are using it. It’s so simple, yet so complex.”

Kathy Madden, Co-Founder, Project for Public Spaces

In late 2018, we released the 2nd edition of our flagship placemaking guidebook, How to Turn a Place Around. Kathy Madden is a co-founder of Project for Public Spaces, and one of the masterminds behind this compendium of public space principles and techniques. In this article, we trace how Kathy became a researcher of public spaces, what she has accomplished at Project for Public Spaces, and why she decided to expand and revise How to Turn a Place Around. Read more.

8. Great Public Spaces: Five Street Transformations from Around the World

“These vital pathways not only get us from A to B, but also create spaces for public life to take place in its most ancient form.”

Eve Critton, Transportation Intern, Project for Public Spaces

If there is one thing that placemakers love, it’s examples of how to accomplish public space transformations from around the world. In this roundup of Great Public Spaces, transportation intern Eve Critton collects an amazing array of transformations, from a pedestrian bridges in Nairobi, Kenya, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, to the blockbuster Spanish Superblocks in Barcelona. Read more.

9. Small-Town Secrets: Five Ideas for Rural Design

“Thoughtful design can support communities in using their assets for the well-being of residents, but many of the places that need it most lack access to design expertise.”

Cynthia Nikitin, Senior Vice President, Project for Public Spaces

How can rural leaders find the funding they need to transform their public places? How can they reach all the people in their community? What role should designers and artists play? From 2011 to 2018, Project for Public Spaces operated the Citizens' Institute on Rural Design (CIRD), a leadership initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts that enhances rural communities and economies through a collaborative design process. As Project for Public Spaces handed the program off to its new stewards at the Housing Assistance Council and buildingcommunityWORKSHOP, the program manager Cynthia Nikitin took the opportunity to reflect on what we had learned from the 19 communities we worked with over those eight years. Read more.

10. A New Guide to Balancing Mobility and Humanity on Main Street

"A powerful vision for a street is rooted in the power of all its people. By taking the time to humbly communicate, evaluate, and co-create visions together, our streets can become powerful places to be, to move through, and to build our community's life around."

Shaylee Zaugg, Junior Project Associate, Project for Public Spaces

At the 3rd International Placemaking Week this year in Chattanooga, TN, Main Street America and Project for Public Spaces released Navigating Main Streets as Places: A People-First Transportation Toolkit to help Main Street leaders, transportation officials, and placemakers evaluate streets and transportation through the lens of placemaking, balance the needs of mobility and other street activities, and build stronger relationships with other decision-makers and the community. In this article, the team from both organizations describe the roadblocks they see in commercial district revitalization, and how this toolkit helps open the way to better Main Streets. Read more.

Photo by T.J. Maguire.

BONUS! Our Top Guest Post of the Year:
Love This Town: Waterfront Lessons from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

“We need more of this in our cities. Places that go beyond meeting basic functional needs, and contribute to lovability—in other words, more moments of snot and drool.”

T.J. Maguire, Urban Designer, Develop Nova Scotia

This article showcases the way that talented placemakers like T.J. Maguire are learning from a growing global movement and adapting lessons to their own local context. The 2nd International Placemaking Week in Amsterdam opened Maguire’s eyes to the importance of “lovability” in public space, and at Wuhan Placemaking Week, he paid that experience forward by sharing with an emerging network of Chinese placemakers how he has made his own waterfront in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, a more lovable place. Read more.

That’s it!

Are you feeling inspired to transform the public spaces in your community?

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COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space