Placemaking week 2017: the highlights

It felt like a kid in a candy story. So much inspiration during Placemaking Week 2017 in Amsterdam. With more than 400 attendees from 46 countries the key conditions were fulfilled. Besides the wonderful opening speech of Fred Kent ("We have to turn everything upside down, to get it right side up") and a lot of other interesting presentations and discussions these are my favorite candies.

Lola Lik
‘Lola’ is an organization that aims to fill up empty or abandoned buildings and create social projects. They
transformed the former prison ‘Bijlmerbajes’ in Amsterdam into a cultural and social spot for 600 refugees. Together with many partners, and after a series of meetings, conversations, challenges and hard work ‘Lola Lik’ was born. The goal is to engage refugees by finding their talents and make them part of the (creative industry of the) city. Besides accommodations they made a meeting point of the courtyard by adding greenery, some colors and places to sit.
Refugees in a former prison is a striking angle, but the most interesting aspect is the integration aspect. Normally there is a top-down integration policy from the municipality with assessments and training's. But here the building is also a cultural center with 17 creative companies, where refugees can meet opportunities for their labor and social integration. The challenge is to combine those top-down and bottom-up approaches.

Source: Steden in Transitie


One of the important
success factors for attractive public spaces is a smooth transition between buildings (private) and the street (public). The initiative called BankjesCollectief (which roughly translates as BenchesCollective) responds to this issue. BankjesCollectief consists of benches that people put outside on the pavement that thereby is being transformed into a shared living room. Collectively all these outdoor living rooms (spreading over 15 countries) form a giant outdoor café. Residents choose what they offer (food, drinks, games, salsa lessons) and café guests determine the value. BankjesCollectief is a wonderful and relaxing way to get a bit closer to the people that live in your neighborhood. 

De Buurtcamping
Placemakers is co-initiator of ‘
De Buurtcamping’ (the Neighborhood Campsite); a convivial camping in an urban park, temporarily inhabited by the variety of residents of the neighborhood. From young urban professionals to the homeless or ‘permanent park residents’, from newborns to seniors. Everyone is welcome to set up camp and help organize De Buurtcamping and all of its activities. A core team consists of local ‘custodians’, working along hundreds of volunteers/campers, local entrepreneurs and organizations. Besides stimulating the use of city parks the main objectives of De Buurtcamping are: 
  • Strengthen social cohesion: putting up a tent or having a BBQ in front of your tent is an easy way to meet and talk. In average people got to know 13 new other people. 1 of 3 keeps in contact. 
  • Accessible and inclusive to all: people of various ages, cultures and socio-economic backgrounds participate. For low incomes it is a cheap way to go on holiday (83% has a holiday feeling).
  • Activity: everybody is allowed to organize something at the camping, but it has also effect on a longer term: 64% likes to become more active in the neighborhood.

Reconciling people, places and traffic
Slow traffic provides most of the time lively cities. In the so-called Shared spaces roads are designed as living space so that they are not immediately interpreted as traffic spaces. The motorist is and feels like a guest. To achieve this, directional features such as traffic signs, traffic lights and sidewalks are absent as much as possible. Instead riding obstacles such as bicycle clips, benches and flower boxes are placed. The New Road in English Brighton and the road behind Amsterdam Central Station are nice examples.
Besides a Dutch traffic engineering technique the shared spaces are also a public space philosophy that emphasizes trust, civility, and humanity. Keynote-speaker Ben
Hamilton-Baillie (traffic engineer at the same-name consulting firm on transport, traffic and urban design) reflected on this philosophy. He held an inspiring lecture that we need to understand and react to the real purpose of towns and cities. It’s all about economic, social and cultural exchange: “money, sex, art”. The car is interrupting that process. Too much space is dedicated to motorized traffic. And more importantly there is often confusion about the function and status of roads. Is it part of a ‘highway’ (regulated, impersonal, linear, single purpose, consistent, predictable, systematic, state controlled, signs and markting) or part of the ‘public realm’(culturally defined, personal, spatial, multi-purpose, constantly changing, unpredictable, contextual, social rules, multiple human communications)? Shared spaces are a good solution for this tension between the planned city and the living city. By breaking down the barriers of crossings, reducing car space, changing speed profile, removing signals and making routes very clear by pavement constructions. With that you make the streets about the activity around it and not about the traffic going through it. And it changes the expectations of drivers and declining the inequality between road (city) users. Hit lecture was supported by wonderful examples in Aachen (Germany), Oosterwolde (Netherlands), Laweiplein (Drachten, Netherlands), Exhibition Road (London), Poynton (Cheshire, England) and Fishergate (Lancashire, England).  

Poynton (source: Planit)

Placemaking in Asian Tropics
Telok Ayer Park in Singapore has all the potential of becoming a great meeting place in the middle of a dense city. It is located next to a food hub, it’s green and bordered by the bustling central business district of the city. But because of its lack of facilities, it is seen as a route rather than a respite for nearby office workers. People don’t want to stay outside in the heat (or rain) but go in to the air-conditioned shopping malls and food centers.
Adib Jalal, a professional placemaker and co-founder of a placemaking studio, Shophouse & Co, is working to change this. After talking to the people that live and work nearby to the park (on the basis of surveys, observing, live feedback), Jalal was able to lead “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper” projects in the space. Little interventions that adapted to the local culture and tropical climate. The project in Telok Ayer Park brought in furniture, interactive paper-folding art installations that encourage exploration of the park, and even a pit stop for food delivery cyclists. Small tweaks have already had positive social and economic outcomes for the Singapore community. 

Source: Shophouseandco

The Porch
Tactical Urbanism is a powerful technique for citizens to create public places, influence active transportation planning, and foster economic empowerment in communities. Tactical Urbanism is the Making in placemaking and it's a great way to stimulate policy innovation.
Because ideas are fun, implementing is challenging. A great example of trial-and-error is The Porch at 30th street (train)station in the
University City District (Philadelphia, United States). This space transformed from a parking strip, to activated sidewalk, to a lushly planted public space. In 2010 the front door of Amtrak’s third busiest station and office for 2.000 people was a drab strip of concrete with jam-packed roadways. Despite the grandeur of the historic station the site was barren, with no trees, shade or character to speak. In 2011 The Porch arrived featuring moveable furniture, lush landscaping and a vision for how public space can transform a community. It offers a variety of comfortable and intimate spaces for people to lounge, unwind and enjoy greenery, festive lighting, creative programming and food and beverages. Creating a space that prioritized people and not cars, encouraging visitors to engage with each other. The success has been based on different factors: Strong collaborations with partners who support in planning, funding and creating the space. By beginning with modest, removable, temporary and inexpensive interventions (concerts, flea markets, yoga classes, mini golf and swings) they had the opportunity to test and measure the interest in space: “Perfect is the enemy of done”. And with this process they build trust with the municipality, entrepreneurs and residents. With this iterative approach and data-driven decision-making they learned what visitors liked and how visitors respond. And with the data - that proved the approach was working - they attracted more funding.
Source: University City District

Place to Meet Friends in Mexico City
Foro Lindbergh is a hardscape plaza (forum) in the heart of Condesa, a classical neighborhood lined with trees and restaurants in México City. The plaza was abandoned for a long time lacking the flexible amenities and programming that would encourage more residents to stop by for a visit. A series of community (placemaking) workshops (with ballot boxes, open table discussion) were organized by the consultancy bureau Lugares Públicos to uncover what people craved in this area of the park. New features like a mobile library cart, an outside art gallery and more than 20 plush bean bag chairs, as well as ongoing programming, all came to life on through this community-led process. Residents of all ages nose deep in books during reading clinics, holding warrior poses as they practiced yoga, playing frisbee with their pets, eating colourful paletas (popsicles), and soaking up the warm México City sunshine with family and friends. To allow for continued successful programming, installation of new design features, and ongoing management of the park, Southwest Airlines has committed to a donation. Besides a colorful library kiosk and the many activities there is a less visible but equally important outcome of the work: the social ties that have been forged and strengthened between neighbors.
The benefit of vibrant, community-led public spaces can be noticed on normal days, but on uncommon days communities strengthen connections. When disaster struck on September 19th (the biggest earthquake ever in Mexico City), residents of Condesa began to gather in Foro Lindbergh almost immediately. Within hours, the Foro became an essential hub for an entirely citizen-led relief effort. Volunteers improvised systems to organize a flood of contributions from donors responding to calls for food, water, medicine, and supplies. Tents were pitched to house neighbors who fled collapsed or damaged buildings. Mental and physical therapists arrived to help people who experienced stress and trauma. A local restaurant even moved their grills to the Foro and served hundreds of free tacos al pastor. See also: This must be the place, learning by doing in Mexico City and Building Connections for a more Resilient Future.


Source: PPS
From Trash Alley to Alley Garden
Doh Eain (“Our Home”) is a non-for-profit social enterprise aimed at citizen-led heritage conservation and urban renewal in Yangon, the capital of Myanmar, also known as Burma. The city has only a few parks and playgrounds, but kilometers of unused and polluted back alleys between the houses, not attracting people but pests and diseases. The alley garden project aims to demonstrate the possibility of utilizing wasteland for recreation and social cohesion purposes. The aim is to demonstrate how Yangon's many alleyways could be used as clean and healthy recreational spaces featuring gardens, street art and children’s play grounds as well as recycling and composting techniques. By simply cleaning up the streets and putting in flowers, plants and color (painting workshops with children) the alleys are turning form a space you want to avoid into a place you want to stay. See also Emilie Röell from Doh Eain at TEDxYangon or this video below.

Children and Youth as Placemakers
Public spaces are of great importance for children. Playing outside improves their health, enriches social skills (sharing, collaborate) and puts their brains at work (cognitive development). But how to make a playable city? The Urban95 Challenge of the Bernard van Leer Foundation invited creative ideas and projects which promote the well-being of young children in cities from the prenatal period up to the age of five. 26 projects were chosen to receive funding. One of them is The City at Eye Level for Kids. The project aims to leverage the City at Eye Level platform to advance the existing state of knowledge into scientific research into creating a child-friendly public realm. It will trial local placemaking approaches in Stockholm (Sweden) and Thessaloniki (Greece) and develop a draft, open-source policy document for other cities and city-makers to use and develop further. Vivian Doumpa from Tópio Program in Thessaloniki gave some wonderful insights in some participatory planning methods she did with kids and youngsters. Making a schoolyard (and nearby park) more vibrant with graffiti, a wall of kindness, music and opening-hours in the weekend. Although it takes time to engage ("trust in the snowball effect and word of mouth") in this way you create a school that feels more like a communal and meeting place for the whole neighborhood.

Many thanks to Project for Public Spaces (PPS), Stipo, City at Eye Level, Placemaking Plus and Pakhuis de Zwijger for the wonderful event!!!

Photo 1: The Porch. Source: University City District


  1. So many great references and links to #placemaking initiatives spanning the globe. #placemakingweek

  2. Great summary of #placemakingweek and thanks for giving the Telok Ayer Park project a shoutout!

  3. Artículo muy recomendado! ��

  4. Wow that was strange. I just wrote an really long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn't appear. Grrrr... well I'm not writing all that over again. Anyhow, just wanted to say great blog! holidays in barcelona


Post a Comment