Liverpool Football Club’s uber-successful Manager, Jurgen Klopp, was asked in a magazine interview about the most important thing in the career of a football manager.

That wherever you were, you made it a little better,” he said.

What a simple and powerful idea! We’d all like to live in a better place – to make it at least a little better. In the age of technology, the importance of physical geography is sometimes forgotten. But, people usually care deeply about their area, a feeling that governments should enable and cultivate. 

In modern, multicultural societies, active public spaces are a way to bring different cultures, language groups, lifestyles and beliefs together. Public spaces are where people can meet, relax and mix. They have played essential roles in social and economic exchanges over thousands of years.

Placemaking empowers people to act, not only as an ethical principle, but also because it is a real way to improve the way a person relates to themselves, their neighbours and their world.

Placemaking’ is both a philosophy and an iterative, collaborative process for creating public spaces that people love and feel connected to. 

Placemaking is like turning a house into a home. – David Engwicht from Creative Communities

Placemaking empowers people to act, not only as an ethical principle, but also because it is a real way to improve the way a person relates to themselves, their neighbours and their world.

In inclusive and equitable places, citizens feel (first) that they are welcome, and (second) that it is within their power to change those places through their own actions.

Urban innovator Marcus Westbury explored these ideas in his book, Creating Cities. He wrote that somewhere between his parent’s generation and his own, we forgot that individuals and communities could do things for themselves. The once-simple intersection between community-initiated action, civic improvement and government control became more and more complicated. 

Cities became expensive, regulated and professionalised. There were many benefits to this, particularly with our increasingly busy and stressful lives. Cities got safer and cleaner, neater and more orderly, Westbury poetically writes. We gained many things, but Western societies are less participatory, adaptive and resilient as a result of the service-delivery mindset. Public spaces are often manufactured to look generic and sterile – ‘placeless’ – in order to satisfy misguided regulations and minimise maintenance costs.

Mindsets and bureaucratic structures are unfortunately a major barrier.

“Governance, on every scale, is not set up to create great places. Indeed, the current culture and structure of government and civic infrastructure may actually be the greatest obstacle (more than money, ideas, talent, infrastructure, etc.) to successful Placemaking.”Project for Public Spaces

The Enabling Mindset is critical to placemaking. We have built on the ideas of the Centre of Public Impact to create the graphic below.

‘Place’ is an important organising principle that can help to break down bureaucratic silos and offers a common purpose for various disciplines – to create better places and stronger communities.

Rather than top-down, expert-led masterplans, placemaking employs a tactical approach termed “lighter, quicker, cheaper” to improving public spaces, which involves both hardware and software ‘upgrades’.

The hardware of a place is easy to see – the roads, buildings, parks, utilities etc. The hardware is generally the responsibility of government agencies, but it can’t infuse a place with soul, character or identity.

The software of a place is less tangible. It is the vibrancy, confidence and character of the area. Some places feel good, whilst others do not. Local residents, businesses, community groups and visitors are the main contributors to the place software. 

Governments should play an enabling role in the process and the community empowered to get involved. 

A network of ‘citizen-placemakers’ is building in Australasia, centred on the Town Team Model. Town Teams are positive and proactive community groups that work collaboratively with their local government to improve a place or area, They provide vision, leadership and can complement the work of government agencies. 

Governments should play an enabling role in the process and the community empowered to get involved. 

“The town teams and the City (of Vincent) enjoy a symbiotic relationship. The City works collaboratively with the town teams to deliver locally based activities/events, physical improvements and economic and community development initiatives.” – City of Vincent, Western Australia

Town Teams have delivered hundreds of actions to improve their local areas and are building strong relationships with their local government authorities, particularly in Western Australia. The approach is both popular and successful. The movement is championed and supported by Town Team Movement

The benefits of placemaking can be both tangible and emotional. 

“Developments and neighbourhoods shaped by the principles of placemaking not only succeed on a practical level, but also increase quality of life, provide a sense of belonging and have emotional resonance. People tend to be happier, more productive and more inclined to care for thoughtfully designed spaces.

Places that generate these good feelings progressively attract more people, more investment and more business.”Great Place Guide, City Renewal Authority

People should be able to shape their communities by what they do, not just by how they spend or who they vote for. Placemaking is an aspirational and pragmatic way to improve governance, foster collaboration and create thriving communities.