Smart Cities are changing their game by focusing on actions they can take now to improve livability

We believe we’re in the middle of an unprecedented moment in planning. For 35 years, PPS has worked successfully cities, with nonprofits, with academic institutions, and with developers to create enduring places. But only recently is the tide turning so that many cities are ripe for all of these partners to work together in coalitions that look for the game-changing opportunities to improve their cities and towns and make them happen.

Buffalo opens the gates to community energy and ideas

We recently helped launch an effort in Buffalo that involves hundreds of local residents whose passion for reclaiming their vacant waterfront has galvanized into action committees who are helping steer local and state authorities in how to invest and rebuild these key assets, which could have a defining impact on the city’s future viability.  This has unlocked 30 years of latent community energy and shows the power of matching the resources of government with the passion, ideas, and entrepreneurial spirit of the people.  See It Is Now the People’s Waterfront

Suburban city retrofits downtown through placemaking and programming

Mississauga, Ontario, a suburban city of 700,000, hired PPS to lead a process which launched a new government department focused on Building a City for the 21st Century. When the Placemaking process began, no capital moneys were budgeted for the city’s unremarkable civic centre, yet the far-reaching buy-in resulted in $100 million stimulus dollars in 2010, which was matched by the council in 2011. See Mississauga reborn: How a revitalized downtown may elevate an overlooked city

Chicago launches broad Placemaking campaign with neighborhood groups

Last year we help launch “Placemaking for Chicago” with the Metropolitan Planning Council. What started as a collaboration around transportation evolved into a broader campaign around Placemaking. The opening statement on their website is:

“’Placemaking’ is an overarching idea and hands-on tool for improving a neighborhood, city, or region. It has the potential to be one of the most transformative ideas of this century.”

Building on your assets, welcoming partners and entrepreneurs, and starting with experiments

What these cities have in common is agreement on what places are important and a commitment to a broad process to invite partners to collaborate on creative strategies that:

  • Work with your existing infrastructure and assets
  • Leverage existing funding or projects
  • Catalyze community partnerships and grassroots support
  • Are often small scale and cost effective
  • Transform the way we think of leadership:  Placemaking encourages collaborative leadership at all levels, and assumes that community wisdom is on equal footing with academic and professional planning expertise and that change comes from the bottom AND the top.

Making our centers more livable is a strategy for sustainability

Suddenly there is a convergence of opportunities: by making our communities more livable, and more about places, we also are doing the right thing for our local economies and for the planet.  Changing the way we live – for the better, in our opinion – will be one of the major strategies to address major issues.

Who are the leaders?

We have identified a dozen or so cities, where we see the potential for leadership for both local and national-level change.  Emerging PPS work leads us to believe that there are a dozen more communities that can be added into what are becoming the new national models for improving their livability and sustainability.

What are the tools?

What follows is a list of the critical tools we use with any city that is ready to move to the next step. We welcome the opportunity to convene local leaders to develop a city wide agenda around Placemaking. We will then unfold that conversation to neighborhood leaders and develop advocates who become partners in demonstration projects that create dynamic, active places on the ground in the short and long term.

  • The Power of Ten can be a framework to elevate Placemaking to a neighborhood, city or regional level. Our experience of physical environment is most defined and enhanced by great places and the things we do in them, yet we seldom focus on creating great places and defining them around uses.  A great place typically has at least 10 things to do in it; a great neighborhood or district has at least 10 great places; and a great city or region has a least 10 of these great districts, plus other major destinations.  By having people think about their special places and greatest opportunity places, a community can quickly determine its strengths and prioritize a path forward.  This simple, common sense idea can be transformative for evaluating and strategically improving an entire city or region.
  • The Place Performance Evaluation. In evaluating thousands of public spaces around the world, PPS has found that successful ones have four key qualities: they are accessible; people are engaged in activities there; the space is comfortable and has a good image; and finally, it is a sociable place: one where people meet each other and take people when they come to visit. Our Place Performance Evaluation is a tool we use in workshops around the world helping people assess any place, good or bad.
  • Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper describes a hyper-local development framework that is tried and tested; one that is lower risk and lower cost that capitalizes on the creative energy of the local community and that efficiently generates new uses and revenue for places in transition.

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Want to learn more about Placemaking? Continue with these articles…


  • What is Placemaking? More than a fashionable phrase, it’s a whole new way of thinking about fostering vital communities.
  • What Makes a Successful Place? In evaluating thousands of public spaces around the world, PPS has found that successful ones have four key qualities.
  • The Power of 10 The Power of 10 offers an easy framework to revitalize urban life.


Strategies for Place-based Development was last modified: March 7th, 2012 by Joshua Kent