We all know that this year has not been free of challenges. In 2017, as we witnessed global conflicts, protests, floods, earthquakes, and the massive migrations of climate refugees, the power of place and placemaking to aid in the work of humanitarians and build more resilient communities has become ever more clear—and urgent.
Fortunately, if 2016 was the year placemaking went global, then 2017 was the year it got organized. While international agreements like the New Urban Agenda helped lay the foundation for more sustainable and just cities, they are nothing without the passionate local practitioners, politicians, and policymakers who are on the ground making it happen. That’s exactly what we saw taking shape this year, as places as diverse as Kenya, Russia, Latin America, Australia, and Malaysia demonstrated how this global movement has evolved into a coalition of active regional networks.
Let’s take a whirlwind global tour of the year in placemaking. In Nairobi, Kenya, a multidisciplinary group of global placemakers gathered alongside PPS and UN-Habitat to develop a citywide model for implementing the New Urban Agenda through placemaking. In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, our partners at Think City continued their trendsetting work using placemaking to address difficult urban problems, and prepared to host the 9th World Urban Forum in February 2018. In Russia, our collaboration with Russia’s Regional Agency for Creative Initiatives, Made by Locals, launched a “new age of Russian placemaking.”
Nowhere was this growing regional energy more apparent than at Placemaking Week 2017 in Amsterdam, Netherlands, which drew together leading placemakers from 48 countries. A new regional network even emerged from the proceedings: the European Placemaking Network, which has already produced an introductory video, survey, and groups on Facebook and LinkedIn. The following week and across the English Channel, PPS Senior Fellow Maria Adebowale launched our joint Placemaking and Philanthropy Program with the convening of our 4th Placemaking Funders Forum. And later that month, the city of Valparaiso, Chile, hosted 200 people, representing 14 countries, for the first Placemaking Latinoamerica conference, which included four full days of keynotes, workshops, and public space interventions around the city.
Back stateside, it has also been a busy year of projects, as PPS continues to help communities create great places and drive systemic change. In Eugene, Oregon, for example, Vice President Meg Walker responded to the homelessness “crisis” downtown, recommending that rather than policing people without shelter further out of the system, the city ought to strategically combine placemaking and social services. Other cities like Santa Clara, California have undertaken citywide campaigns to infuse community-driven placemaking into every aspect of their general plan, from neighborhood development to retail to public art to future growth. Meanwhile, PPS founder Fred Kent gave San Diego a rude awakening about its “iconic” public spaces, launching a citywide campaign that culminated in the adoption of the city’s first “placemaking ordinance,” which will ease the way for activations in public rights of way and empty lots. (Other cities take note: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!)
More great PPS-powered public spaces opened to the public too. Beacon Park in Detroit, which only cut the ribbon in July, has already become the new home of the city’s New Years Evefestivities for 2017. We equipped many other public spaces to step up their game through our collaboration with Southwest Airlines, The Heart of the Community Grants program: adding outdoor gathering and reading spaces to Mexico City; creating an outdoor “living room” for Philadelphia’s City Hall; building a custom kiosk for Woodruff Park in Atlanta; and supporting a social justice-minded arts corridor in Minneapolis. But the work doesn’t stop there—Three new Heart of the Community projects are already underway.
More streets became places this year, as PPS transformed a traffic island into an off-beach oasis in Salisbury, Massachusetts and bus stops into hubs of storytelling and music in Pittsburgh, PA. Many rural communities also learned how to strengthen their Main Streets through our statewide Cultivating Place trainings in Louisiana, Michigan, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming, which led to more than 40 new placemaking projects and $2.6 million of investment in downtown districts around America for the 2016 cohort. The Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design provided one of our most exciting projects this year, where we had the privilege of supporting the climate resettlement plan of the Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Tribe, using placemaking tools to build resilience in the face of growing environmental challenges.
Many other projects continue to develop: improving the public realm on universities campuses like Stanford and Harvard (plus nearby Harvard Square), the transformation of Fort Worth’s Hemphill Park, and the re-imagining of Bermuda’s waterfront.
PPS also began to dig into some new topics this year, striking up a conversation around innovation and technology in public spaces. Through the Bass Initiative with the Brookings Institution, we released studies and recommendations for addressing placemaking, innovation, and inclusion issues together. Diving deep into Philadelphia’s University City and Oklahoma City’s Innovation District, this work has brought us valuable new perspective on how place, programming, and policy can accelerate innovation while making fast-growing urban economies more inclusive. This research also found its way into application as the Bass Initiative launched a guidebook for the US Conference of Mayors on cultivating innovation districts, and co-hosted a conference on Innovation and the Public Realm with the Centre for London. And as big tech companies like Apple and Google’s Sidewalk Labs find more and more overlap between their business plans and public space, you can bet we will continue to facilitate this conversation about the role of technology in public space.
Finally, this year also marked two big anniversaries for PPS. Our mentor William H. Whytewould have turned 100 this past October, and it seems like you all remembered; for the first time in the span of a year, we sold more than 1,000 copies of his seminal book on observing public space, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces! Just a month later, PPS founder Fred Kent also celebrated his 75th birthday, as well as 50 years of his career in placemaking. Cheers to the second century of Holly Whyte!
What’s In Store for 2018:
We are also excited about a new initiative brewing behind the scenes at PPS that will make it easier for communities organize their own local placemaking campaigns and share their stories with the world. Keep your eyes peeled for this new toolkit, coming early next year! But in the meantime, here are a few ways you can get involved with PPS now: