• Laura Maidment

Placemaking vs Placefaking - Our PLACE Tribe at SPACE UK discuss Placemaking Strategy

Updated: Feb 24

Hosted by the founder of MARK, Jenni Carbins, this experienced and diverse discussion group explored how the idea of “Place and Placemaking strategy” is at the forefront of world class projects. What does it mean to create a place and become a place maker? Is it about public realm, retail, transport links, or is it a more holistic ideal? Is placemaking more about the humanity, connection and belonging, to grasp how people live and co-exist in the spaces around us?

Placemaking vs Placefaking

Jenni primarily set the rhetorical question of, how do we create authentic stories and emotional connection through the medium of property? Is it born out of trying to be authentic in process or is that a paradoxical statement? How do we make sure we are not supplicating authenticity by actually trying to create it?

“Places are messy, they are complex, they grow organically over time”.

Martyn Evans of U+I understood that recognition of their responsibility is key when creating authentic places, the position he, and others within the discussion, hold to answer that question. As a mixed used regeneration developer himself, he is in charge of large pieces of land where he has the ability to make good, complex places within the built environment. He confronted the issue of authenticity with a confession.

“The idea that within our field we need to escape from the belief that good places, great places, for the people that use them are not valuable to developers.”

Therefore, if we can connect the idea that places that make people happy and create jobs, allow cohesive communities, and have a sustainable future, are valuable to both people who live there and people who develop them, that is where we need to start. We cannot essentially “fake” places to make money. We need to take responsibility as an industry, to listen to what people want and deliver. Market research needs to be an essential part of going forward in placemaking, as for too long we are building what we want, not what the people want.

Jay squire, Managing Director of Native land, added to the discussion, agreed with what Martyn had outlined and built on the idea of how commercial imperative is also an aspect that should be balanced within the equation. He accepted that it is difficult to create authenticity. For example, how do you find, as a developer, an aspect of a property or place which resonates with a tenant or buyer?

He believed that authenticity is like quality, you cannot fake it, as people simply see through it. People need to ‘feel’ it. Jay believed that in order for a project to be genuine in its final result, authenticity needs to weave through the whole process. From the people involved, to the quality of design and finally the delivery.

Ali Abbas echoed this premise whilst promoting the vision that “In order to be authentic in place making, you need to be authentic yourself”. He argued that, as developers and property professionals, we have a duty to listen, to lead, and to deliver. Three key things which he himself tries to instil into his team and Art-Invest as a business. As developing should adhere to small, medium, and large stakeholders, there should not be a bias, otherwise it will lead to over promising and a lack of delivery.

Having only discussed how placemaking is sort after within the public sector, Jenni then directed the flow of conversation towards Deirdra Armsby who works for the Westminster City Council to gain a public sector perspective. Deirdra sympathised with the previous points and agreed with them, however, made the point that working within the public sector and not the private sector, they, as employees representing the people, are wholly accountable if they do not deliver.

This echoed what Ali set out, about how essential, especially for a public sector body that they deliver what they say they will deliver. Transparency is a key part of that. The problem Ali now faces is changing the stigma that communities do not trust authorities to be working in their best interests nor deliver what communities need. To do this successfully is to allow the money invested to be reflective of what the community actually wants, in terms of employment, play and social environments.

Market research is now a pivotal tool to be utilised. Due to the COVID - 19 pandemic, people’s worlds have shrunk, and social and physical environments have become so much smaller. Therefore, people are now far more aware of their immediate surroundings, which makes strategic placemaking even more important. If we are able to create areas which people love, ideally, they will look after it and thrive within it.

How does tactical urbanism and responsiveness work?

Emma Cariaga, based her views on what tactical urbanism meant to her by relating it to the development of Canada Water; a 53-acre development in Central London in which she is the joint head, on behalf of British Land. Emma started with a provocation about the notion of placement. By rejuvenating fifty acres of London property, you are altering places which 30,000 people have called home. Developers need to recognise the fact that these areas are people’s homes and special places. Developers owe it to these people, to recreate that sentiment in their development and processes.

This underlying sentiment should be echoed through the core values set out at the very beginning of a project. There should be a common theme throughout the phases within the development, without being blinkered or prescriptive to aspects of the project.

Emma gave an example of the old Daily Mail Print Works which British Land acquired back in 2012. Originally set out to be demolished, the Print Works was utilised as storage and a meeting place in the end. Channelling a “laissez-faire” approach, the development team allowed for it to grow and come into its own. The Print Works soon became a hub for meetings, a talking point, it became the heart (and now the Town Hall) of what British Land wanted to achieve at Canada Water in 2021. By being open-minded throughout the processes and allowing for some discomfort, it led to an organically grown place of which people are now proud.

Example of Placemaking

Laurence Jones of Trilogy Real Estate kicked off by praising the work of Argent at Kings Cross. The large-scale mixed-use plot really maximises the property fundamentals on offer. By respecting the heritage and its slightly chequered past, Argent was able to create and instil a sense of place within the community and workforce of the Kings Cross area.

Laurence argued, in conjunction with this, that the challenge with the notion of placemaking is trying to be all things to all people, but that being nothing more than a sales pitch. Empty promises. By developers not delivering what they promise not only allows for poor places being created but leads the community into a state of distrust. Which Laurence believes is the critical point to overcome if we are to make headway in this area.

How to measure the value of placemaking

Damien Sharkey, maintaining an investor’s perspective, started his view with the acknowledgment of the fact that this is a very difficult question to answer. The real test of measurement in his eyes is whether the places created are loved and used. This is a question that cannot be answered five or ten years before as investors demand.

At HUB, to try and grasp some sort of measurement for the future, the best way he found was question yourself, “Why?” Why and what made us come to this are in the first place. He used HUB’s involvement at Digbeth as an example to give a better understanding. As a community heavily involved with culture music and art, developers cannot be arrogant in believing what they want is the best scenario for the residents. By listening to 1500 residents their initial design was completely transformed to cater for the residents needs. Damien focused on how, in order to measure the value of a place, one must never be egotistical. “Don’t sell a dream that’s never achievable.”

Emma Cariaga, adding to the discussion, called for a standardised approach when discussing measurement of value. As this would allow for developers and businesses to hold themselves accountable to see where or if they are going wrong, how can they fix that. Targets should be set with the local planning authority on how and where would benefit the most from attention and increase the value of that space. Focus then also should be drawn towards the implantation and then the assessment and continued monitoring of those targets throughout the development’s timeline.

Jay Squier presented the alternative view that it should be less about the metrics and measurement, focus should be drawn towards the right collaboration of successful developers in their own sphere. Such working in consortium with Malaysian investors give them the freedom to showcase their domestic technical expertise on how and what you know that works for them in their market and then to collude and utilise it on on a bigger development scale.

Campus Thinking

The final topic discussed was Campus Thinking. With Laurence Jones’s first-hand experience of spending time in America’s higher education system he understood the ethos behind it. He argued that campus culture can be as powerful, if not mor powerful than ever post COVID-19. A campus environment can be your place of work but can also be your lifestyle. He described that you feel a sense of alchemy within a campus, a feeling that is really needed during our current lives and should be integrated into our way of life. He finished by saying that Campus thinking is not a business plan of sorts, it is about people and engagement. Which really, I believe encapsulates what place and place making is all about.

In Summary

  • Listening is key - To listen to the people who are the end users in order to deliver what and how they want their places to be.

  • In order to be authentic in the places you create, you must be authentic yourself.

  • Take responsibility for the positions we hold in order to create the places people deserve.

  • Place isn’t an entity born out of bricks and mortar, it is a place which is created by the people and grows organically through them.

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