Worldwide Resonance, Local Action: The Placemaking Leadership Council Takes Off

Mar 15, 2015
Dec 14, 2017

The Placemaking Leadership Council (PLC) is gaining steam and we’re thrilled to tell you about some big steps forward as well as the huge opportunities coming up. First, we want to celebrate a major milestone—as of last month, the Council now numbers 800 members in over 50 nations across the globe! The Placemaking movement is taking off, from Montana to Malawi.

With Placemaking gaining traction around the world, the PLC came together to tackle common challenges facing members across borders. Yet although it’s a global movement, place is inherently local, and all great places reflect the unique attributes of the communities that use and surround them. For that reason, the consensus at last year’s annual meeting was that the Council was ready to focus on driving local action. Members wasted no time in getting down to business, exploring how Placemaking could take hold more broadly within their own communities.

(RUA)³ ["Street Cubed"] organized by Brazilian PLC members — a repurposed construction trailer brought new life to a neglected park in São Paulo. | Photo courtesy Jeniffer Heeman

Brazilian Placemaking Leadership Council

Brazil and its booming cities are basking in the global spotlight that comes with hosting the world’s two biggest sporting events back-to-back. Few other locales can boast of a culture as vibrant, diverse, and social, and a physical landscape as rich. Yet due to underinvestment in infrastructure and the public realm, Brazilian cities are not the world-class places they could and should be. They are largely autocentric, and lack high-quality cherished public spaces—Copacabana notwithstanding.

A dedicated group of PLC members saw the enormous potential for Placemaking to flourish in Brazil, and decided to establish the Brazilian Placemaking Leadership Council. Fred Kent was down for their launch event in São Paulo in August, which drew over 100 professors, students, government officials, large real estate developers, and social activists. Many attendees had already been doing Placemaking, or had been seeking it, without knowing what to call it.

Given the resounding response, the Brazilian PLC plans to carry on publicizing Placemaking initiatives, providing training, building capacity, breaking down silos, and making connections between place managers and groups seeking to program those places. Government there is unfamiliar with the Placemaking approach, but so far has been responding positively to grassroots Placemaking. Two of the group’s leaders were here at PPS’s offices in New York conducting a three-week fellowship sponsored by a public agency (check out president Jeniffer Heemann who spoke at our Detroit meeting in a recent Next City article). A Placemaking training followed by a Brazilian PLC forum are in the works for June 4-6 (tentative) in São Paulo.

A packed room at the Placemaking Summit in San Francisco | Photo via AIA SF

Placemaking Summit in San Francisco

Last month’s “SF Placemaking Summit”—the launch event for Placemaking San Francisco—was a huge success. The event featured an impressive lineup of panelists, including place managers, advocates, architects, a city Supervisor, and the planning director. With a focus on place governance and inclusive community engagement, the agenda led to a robust and constructive conversation throughout the day-long event. The over-capacity crowd was thrilled to participate in what could be a critical moment in the city’s famously-spirited urban dialogue (see the Storify summarizing the excellent social media coverage of the event).

Notably, the event was held by the American Institute of Architects SF chapter, whose representatives prudently and enthusiastically pledged to push this issue—challenging their field to incorporate a more holistic understanding of place, and create a multi-sector demand for good design. The ongoing initiative Placemaking San Francisco, led by PLC member and AIA SF President Aaron Jon Hyland, hopes to build on this momentum by institutionalizing a culture of place-led planning and design throughout the city. They hope this cross-sector partnership becomes an effective model for PLC groups in other cities.

Forum on Placemaking and Main Street – Washington D.C. 

The National Main Street Center (NMSC), with funding from the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Foundation, partnered with PPS to host this inspiring and productive one-day forum in January – the first to focus specifically on the question of how Main Street can connect more deeply with the Placemaking movement. Nearly 30 people representing four federal agencies, Main Street organizations, and the Placemaking Leadership Council attended, including our key PLC institutional partners AARP and the National Association of Realtors.

We were thrilled with the day’s discussions, which produced an abundance of ideas and insights about expanding the audience Main Street reaches and better integrating Placemaking into Main Street’s work. And far beyond that, we left the room with an energizing sense of shared purpose. It’s clear there are many partnership opportunities that this group should explore as a follow-up to leverage our shared expertise and bring the benefits of Placemaking to a far more expansive audience. PPS and NMSC are working together to produce a report which will capture the conversation. We’ll share more in the next few weeks.

Placemaking Gathering in Victoria: Rockland Greenway | Photo courtesy Lorne Daniel

Placemaking Leads the Way in Victoria

Placemaking is taking a lead role in urban change in Victoria, British Columbia, on Canada’s west coast. Last year, a series of urban discovery walks evolved into the Greater Victoria Placemaking Network. Led by PLC member Lorne Daniel, the group has grown quickly, attracting standing-room only crowds of citizens and professionals involved in planning, architecture, and related disciplines.

In November, the City of Victoria elected new Mayor Lisa Helps, who is an outspoken advocate of Placemaking, having had personal experience in seeing its power to transform neighborhoods. Placemaking is also recognized as a key planning process in the city’s Official Community Plan.

Now, the Placemaking Network is working on a number of projects, including a Complete Streets demonstration event, parklet development, and open streets events. A Placemaking weekend is tentatively in the works for September.

“Collaboration is the key,” Lorne Daniel says of the new energy. “We have had a great response from citizens, community groups, businesses, and elected officials. Change is in the air.”

Organize In Your City!

Want to spread Placemaking in your own community?  Have some ideas about what to do, but not sure of the next steps? We’re happy to help. You can use the groups above as models, or you can take your own route. Like Placemaking itself, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. If you’re interested, feel free to reach out: leadershipcouncil@pps.org.

Join Us in Stockholm!

Building on two previous conferences, the final and culminating Future of Places conference is taking place in Stockholm this June 29 - July 1, organized by UN Habitat, the Ax:son Johnson Foundation, and PPS. The conference is free, although participants must pay their own travel and accommodation costs. We’re relying on members from each of the PLC’s 50 represented countries to make the case for public space and Placemaking to be a focus at Habitat III in 2016.

Applications are now being accepted for an invitation to the conference and the Call for Papers is open until April 15th. We expect many PLC members to attend, and will convene them as a special group. Have your voice heard at this pivotal moment!

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