As we say goodbye to 2017—a tumultuous year, to be sure, but also one that saw monumental gains for the placemaking movement—PPS is excited about the many possibilities on the horizon in 2018. But before ringing in the New Year, here’s a list of our 10 favorite articles from the year:
November 2, 2017
This year, we celebrated Fred Kent’s 75th birthday, and with it, 50 years of placemaking! From his early days of organizing, starting with the first Earth Day in 1969, to his continued leadership in the public space community, Fred has been a constant presence and inspiration in global efforts to create great places. A builder of movements, Fred has pioneered the idea that; “the community is the expert” and blazed the path for the concept of “placemaking,” which has now taken root on a global scale.
August 8, 2017
This summer, PPS intern Riva Kapoor explored some of New York’s most beloved parks, with a keen eye to how young people harness the power of public spaces. From Bryant Park to Governor’s Island, her stories illustrated heartwarming scenes of community-building; from teams crafting cardboard kayaks to kids splashing through fountains. But beyond that, it highlighted evidence of challenges facing different parks in the city, like bolted- and tied-down furniture at the 78th Street Playstreet in Jackson Heights. Some spaces remain; “underused, or even abandoned… unsafe… perceived as ‘loitering’ spaces for the youth.” Her experience reinforced the importance of involving young people in the placemaking process, leading her to launch Future Place: Makers & Shakers, a growing online community of young public space activists.
August 15, 2017
2017 was a year that forced us to consider how public space interacts with democracy. Though it is supposed to be a forum for free speech and assembly, we’ve seen that sometimes intimidation replaces conversation in even the best-loved of public spaces. In Charlottesville, Virginia,“alt-right” and white supremacist groups gathered in a “Unite the Right” rally, bringing scenes of conflict to the city. With militias and armed groups taking over spaces like Emancipation Park, soon to be followed by counter-protests, the event brought to mind the delicate relationship between public space and free speech. Places like Emancipation Park are frequently home to spirited debate — as they are meant to be. Free speech and peaceful ideological exchange in public space is worth protecting. However, hate speech and violent events, like those that conspired in Charlottesville, are not.
March 2, 2017
This year, PPS Senior Fellow Maria Adebowale Schwarte examined how we can converge placemaking with the work of grant makers and charitable foundations, matching the work of philanthropists with investments in public space projects. By focusing on a “place-led model” that is sensitive to changing politics and questions like those around inclusion and marginalized communities, an overlap between placemaking and philanthropy can be a point of positive “disruption.” This point of convergence between the two also needs to prioritize knowledge sharing, promote long-term investments, and foster collaboration in order to truly shake up the philanthropic community.
September 3, 2017
This unprecedented year of hurricanes brought some serious tests of resilience to places like Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. Houston was among the places hardest-hit by these storms, facing severe flooding when Hurricane Harvey ripped through the area. Hope came in the form of Houston’s strong network of parks and libraries. The strong ties that locals maintain to their public spaces created steady ground for resilience and recovery. Places like the Baker-Ripley Community Center became home base for the people that stood at the ready to knit their community back together, a host to the numerous services that brought Houston together after the storm.
May 24, 2017
How can placemaking address existing spatial injustices? A new politics of placemaking is rising to coincide with the conversation around discriminatory policies like “broken window” policing; a phenomenon that has marginalized Black and Latino youth and made many feel out of place in their own parks. Many placemaking ideas run the risk of worsening these injustices, if a new paradigm isn’t set now; a paradigm for placemaking when Black lives matter. The concept of “the right to the city” needs to be continuously re-examined, with placemaking best practices constantly evolving to help mend existing inequalities while boosting inclusion.
February 18, 2017
Rather than closing in the Foro Lindbergh section of Parque México with a fence, members of the community in Mexico City had a more long-term approach to making the space safer and more accessible. The Lugares Públicos team, with the support of the Southwest Airlines Heart of the Community program, took a closer look at how people used the Foro, with a focus on making the space a center of activity at all times of the day and week. By engaging directly with the community, the team was able to test out activities ranging from yoga to hula hooping, finally settling in on a mobile library and a plant clinic as the latest additions to the park. Since then, these temporary, moveable structures and strong, ongoing programming have turned the park into a true gathering place..
August 23, 2017
State DOTs have not yet risen to the modern challenges that sprawl has created, with health, climate, social equity and environmental issues putting pressure on the transportation planning community to make a serious change. Re-tooling state DOTs, and empowering them to tackle these multi-sectoral challenges head-on is the next logical step. The resources, experience and skills that each state DOT could bring to the table could be harnessed for better quality of life, ranging from economic inequality to climate change, all the way to the acknowledgment of numerous health issues. To do so, state DOTs must become hubs for statewide planning, taking control of active transportation (walking and biking), and integrating transport and land-use planning.
February 2, 2017
Today’s refugee crisis has turned the placemaking conversation to perhaps one of our greatest modern challenges: the creation of safe and inclusive spaces in times of social and political upheaval. New patterns of migration, paired with increasing internal displacement, make the topic of public space a crucial one for cities, many of which are seeing the greatest amount of change as a result of increased migration. The intense social, economic, and racial discrimination that often accompany displacement beg the question: How can placemaking mend the fragmentation that can result from these phenomena? The placemaking process is an opportunity for necessary dialogue on these topics; providing a space for those perhaps once seen as outsiders to gain a voice and forge long-lasting connections.
September 21, 2017
When Apple announced plans to re-brand its stores as “Town Squares,” the placemaking community took notice: Can public space be brought into being by a single company, with a single storefront? While a retail store can never check all the boxes of a great public space, it can become a “third space” and be an important part of a public space. Nonetheless, allowing a single retail store to dominate places like Stockholm’s Kungsträdgården could spell disaster for such time-tested, beloved parks. The focus must remain on creating active, multi-use destinations that attract people of all ages at all times of the day.