What is Placemaking?

Place, Sense of Place and Placemaking

placemaking is understood here as the place-related identity of the urban citizens and their collective re-imagination and reinvention of the spaces (Pierce, Martin, Murphy: 2010), the understanding of knowledge production includes all forms of citizens’ knowledge connected to place and placemaking.

The term ‘place’ is used in literature to mean a particular geographical area (region, objective concept (Kovács/Musterd:2013, 99). Connected to this objective concept, the notion of the sense of place is rather individual.

The term ‘sense of place’ was developed in architecture and urban theories of the 1960s and 1970s (Christian Norberg-Schultz, Kevin Lynch, Edward Relph and many others). Placemaking is one of the central issues in current urban research (Carmona/ Heath/ Tiesdell: 2010), it grasps aspects of the human–space relationship and creates a balance of both objective and subjective approaches for the elaboration of this relationship (Holt-Jenssen:1999).

In urban planning, it tries to counteract the devastating impact of cars in cities: they transform streets in traffic arteries that can no longer fulfill public functions, and for a time many squares turned into parking lots. Often associated with New Urbanism, recent trends in urban planning see place making as a prerequisite for the revitalization of public space.

The term ‘sense of place’ is used here to describe the distinctiveness or uniqueness of particular localities; the qualities and attributes that distinguish one place from another normally emerges from its history and its cultural and environmental settings.

Sense of place describes the individuality of place, its distinct character, and it also suggests a particular feel that makes the place stand out among other places. Thus, this concept is strongly tied to the process of placemaking through which social, cultural or ethnic groups shape their environment and landscape. However, there is no singular, widely accepted definition of placemaking, though it is generally understood as a process of reshaping space in order to make it more appealing and useable, and to generate a sense of place.

The process of placemaking is situated, differing in each place it is performed (Buizer/Turnhout:2011). Others suggest, that placemaking is seen as a process ‘involving people in how their public spaces look, feel and operate to discover what they want and expect from a space’, (O’Rourke/ Baldwin: 2016,103).

This Action understands placemaking as a concept referring to the practices and strategies undertaken by locals (urban citizens, governments and other interested actors) to invest in places with specific cultural characteristics.

Places facilitate belonging and, whether made through flat or community collaboration, tend to carry normative expectations (Sack 1997; Curry 2002) The very conception of place brings to mind particular conceptions of being in place or out of place (Cresswell 2006).

However, places are ongoing relational constructions and the placemaking of local actors is deeply rooted in these actors’ local knowledge derived from their everyday life. This urban knowledge can be viewed according to the COST C20 Action “Urban Knowledge Arena” as an attempt to point to the value of combining different perspectives (i.e. practices and theory) with different approaches and disciplines, meaning that knowledge is also produced outside of university departments and other research institutions (Andersen/Atkinson:2013,4) as well as any institution that defines the normativity in the city.

One may go one step further: place making only makes sense if it results from people's active participation. Knowledge therefore should be conceived as a social product, which implies that someone (or some process) decides what is and what is not acceptable as “knowledge,” under which circumstances knowledge is produced and who the producers of knowledge are (Andersen/Atkinson:2013,4). Thus, urban knowledge cannot be isolated from the conditions of its production, and concepts must be related to specific circumstances to make sense of them.

The empirical results of another EU-founded project, the URBACT- PlaceMaking 4 Cities demonstrated in 2015 clearly how important it is to involve the place-related knowledge of the urban citizens and, at the same time, to enable them to take the lead in creating and developing spaces.

The Challenge

Online communities, new tools, and new applications pin down new definitions and ways for the citizens’ urban knowledge production. According to these processes, this Action´s overall aim is

1) to document and analyze how placemaking activities re-imagine and reinvent public space and improve citizens’ involvement in urban planning and

2) to analyze the role and potential of digital tools to record, transform, produce and disseminate a citizens’ knowledge about the urban spaces throughout Europe’s cities.

Furthermore, this Action will also expand the application of digital tools and will develop an(open-source) digital platform connected to the Action´s main goals.

There is a discussion in social sciences and policy about the loss of public space due to digitization of all aspects of life - leading to the loss of interest in material public spaces in European cities. But this point of view seems to be one-sided. Drawing on recent theoretical insights that point to the importance of digital citizenship, participative urban development, the influence of new media, and changing urban contexts, the Action will study the relation between ongoing overall digitization and analogue and digitized placemaking in Europe and beyond. By inviting urban researchers from other parts of the world to participate in its activities, the Action will add a broader international perspective to its study of placemaking and digitization in Europe.