SLP Articles in Our Key Focus Areas and Further Resources

We're scaling up our efforts at the Social Life Project and PlacemakingX to help take the placemaking movement to the next level. In the process of doing this, we have looked back at all our articles and identified the key content pieces in each of our focus areas. We have collected them here to help you navigate our work more easily. At the end we have added links to a number of organizations doing great work in this field. Together we can make wide-reaching positive impacts on our built environment.

Note: The issues we write about are ones that affect all our lives and are suitably challenging topics with a lot of nuance. Therefore, they are constantly developing and changing and we will keep updating this document as we continue publishing. We cherish your input.

An introduction to us:

The Place Man: Watch the New Documentary on the Placemaking Movement
We have recently created a documentary, The Place Man, about our work in placemaking over the last 50 years, made by the wonderful Guillermo Bernal. It got us thinking about the state of the placemaking movement and what’s next.
The Past, Present, and Future of the Global Placemaking Movement
Imagine if the places where we live were shaped for, and from, our social lives, re-imagined to make it easy for us to gather, shop, have fun, eat together, and be around people different from us. we would collectively have an impact on the health of our planet.
Global Placemaking Summit - Mexico City, November 2023
A collection of images showing the joyful gathering at the Global Placemaking Summit and the beauty of Mexico City’s streets and public spaces on the Day of the Dead weekend.

An introduction to our focus areas:

11 Transformative Agendas to Restore Social Life in Your Community
These transformative agendas can be a foundation for the future and a roadmap for communities to improve the “places” and after COVID, Build Back Better that can help us with ideas to shape our communities for the future.

Broad Impacts

Addressing the Epidemic of Loneliness: Five Campaigns to Restore Social Life in Our Communities
We are in the middle of an epidemic of loneliness. These 5 campaigns to restore social life in our communities will get us out.
How Placemaking and Social Life are Helping Win the Climate War - 11 Ways
When it comes to addressing climate change in a way that actually moves the needle, the creativity and community-orientation that always defined the global Placemaking movement can be the foundation for the future of communities everywhere--and for our planet.
How Placemaking Helps Heal Our Crises of Social and Environmental Disconnection
The two main crises of our time are about disconnection – disconnection from each other and disconnection from the planet. Placemaking brings environmentalism back into cities and towns by connecting it more closely to people’s daily lives.

Five Campaigns to Restore Social Life in Our Communities

Creating Social Life for All - Places Where People Thrive
Great public spaces combat the epidemic of social isolation and loneliness by offering a welcoming place for people of all ages, races, abilities, and backgrounds.
A Bench on Every Corner... Is More Than Just A Bench
A bench is not just a bench. What happens around it makes it catalytic. This seemingly simple amenity can grow to become a key for transforming not just a corner but an entire community.
A “Porch” on Every Building: How Bringing the Inside Out Creates Vibrant Communities
The way to make a building come alive is to activate its ground floor - the place where it makes contact with community life.
Creating the Streets and Sidewalks We Love - Shifting Our Focus From Cars to People
Paradigm-shattering change will happen when streets, sidewalks and intersections are transformed into community gathering spots through the simple act of giving human beings priority over motor vehicles.
Bringing Back the Heart of Communities - Squares and Markets
Markets and squares are the heart of communities where people gather, celebrate, play, and enjoy life on a daily basis.

Key Topic Areas:

1) Amenities

We can highlight a community’s identity by creating great amenities – a bench at a corner, a canopy or tree that throws shade, a drinking fountain, even a bollard – things that provide a benefit to everyone in the community and improve their experience of living in it. The best communities place amenities where people need them. This lets people know the community cares about their comfort.

Benches and Seating

Let’s Put A Bench on Every Street Corner
In an era where social isolation underlies so many of our society challenges, a simple bench to draw us outside our private lives enabling us to connect may be the perfect antidote.
How Seating Shapes Welcoming Cities
Benches and seating are not objects; they are mirrors to our social behavior. We have seen it time and again, that where there is seating, there is life.
Please Just a Nice Place to Sit
A well-designed seat placed in the right location sets the stage for lively activity along a sidewalk, in a park, or on a waterfront.


Throwing (Good) Shade for Placemaking
Shade can become an intentional strategy — developed with communities, led by communities. If we do it right, the addition of shade in all its forms can have an enormous collective impact on walkability, Social Life, and climate resilience.


Ice Cream - The Social Life Magnet
A simple ice cream stand can incite a renaissance of activity in an area by anchoring a variety of commercial offerings and public spaces.

2) Community Assets

Assets are the parts of a street, town or city that bring it to life. While amenities give people something they need like shade, refreshment, or comfort, assets give people things they enjoy. They include things like interesting focal points, art such as murals and sculptures, water features such as fountains, and other details that give a place its character, beauty, and uniqueness.

Focal Points are Essential for Public Spaces
What a focal point is varies greatly with each square. Sometimes it is as simple as a good spot to sit, a fountain, or a statue on which kids can play and climb. The ones we are interested in are the ones that are swarming with people.
Play Sculptures
Play-friendly sculptures can be a part of making someone’s visit to a park particularly memorable, whether that’s by bringing a beloved character to life, or offering a landscape for play unlike any other.

3) Sidewalks and Corners

Starting with sidewalks is the key to creating the social life we want. Sidewalks are the arteries of community – the platforms for pedestrian activity that people experience their towns and cities from and where they cross paths with friends and neighbors. Sidewalks are where we connect with businesses, buildings, amenities, and each other.

Corners That Connect People and Places: Eight Cities Where Street Corners Create Social Life
Corners, by definition, connect people. These 8 cities have created some of the most vibrant, interesting corners in the world that make the most of this important role.
To Save the Planet, Start With the Social Life of Sidewalks
Rich street life is no frill. It is an expression of the most ancient function of a city—a place for people to come together, all kinds of people, face-to-face. — William “Holly” Whyte
It’s the Sidewalks, Stupid
Paradigm-shattering change will happen when streets, sidewalks and intersections are transformed into community gathering spots through the simple act of giving human beings priority over motor vehicles.
Starting at the Corner: A New Haven Success Story
Areas around Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut exploded with social life this past summer and fall — coming alive in spite of COVID-19 — we couldn’t help but notice and be reminded of our work there, years ago.

4) Architecture of Place

Turning buildings inside-out is important because it blurs the lines between the private indoors and shared outdoors, thus bringing life out onto the street and engaging the public realm. It makes streets and sidewalks interesting places to be, not just breeze through. From large cities to small towns the results can be profound.

Turn Places “Inside Out” to Revive Social Connection and Local Economies
Thresholds where storefronts and buildings connect with the sidewalk —is the place to reunite communities and jump-start local economies after these long, hard months.
Let’s Turn Buildings Inside-Out
Bringing the inside out onto the sidewalk blurs the lines between public and private space, creating one dynamic, thriving ecosystem.
Porch Life: Building Social Neighborhoods
As “in-between” spaces, porches create a soft edge that mediates between individual and community, public and private, and in these times, offer a safe way to maintain our social, mental and physical health.
Porches: Where People’s Lives Connect
“Of Porches there are two sorts: the decorative and the useful, the porch that is only a platform and the porch you can lie around on in your pajamas and read the Sunday Paper” – Garrison Keillor

5) Cultural Destinations

Important cultural destinations are monuments to the history and values which define places. They are important focal points and are often integrated with key public spaces. These destinations add the unique, characteristic look and feel of a city.

Back to the Future: Tivoli Gardens
Tivoli Gardens is one of the world’s most incredible examples of a multi-layered hub of social life and an example for parks to follow.
The Magic of Luxembourg Gardens
The magical appeal of Luxembourg Gardens is simply that people feel welcome to eat, relax or stroll. But it’s under-pining is that, it’s all about just a nice place to sit
Balboa Park: San Diego’s Global Destination
Ever changing. Always amazing. Where culture, science, and nature collide, It is home to more than 16 museums, performing arts venues, gardens and other attractions, including the San Diego Zoo on 1,200 acres.
Paris - Bassin de la Villette: The Best Waterfront Yet?
Bassin de la Villette has become the best, most valuable part of the Paris Plage, connecting very different neighborhoods in Northeast Paris

6) Multi-layered Destinations

Squares are the Hearts of Communities, Markets Their Soul: How Three Cities Put Them Together and Thrive
Exploring the powerful, mutually beneficial connection between market and square in three U.S. cities.

6.1) Squares

Historically, public squares served as common ground – gathering places for community. Today, we need to reinvent these community anchors to rouse vital public interaction. Squares – which can take the form of parks, markets, even shopping streets or plazas – become sources of civic pride, sites of protest and conversation, and social hubs.

Catalytic Places: Public Squares, Part I
What great squares have to offer their communities is limitless. Above all, it’s the social life that works in these squares: What are perhaps the most magical parts about these places are the simple, crucial chance encounters that allow us to have with others.
Time-Honored Places: The Public Square, Part II
Public Spaces as squares are plazas in Spain, Latin America, and sometimes the U.S., piazzas in Italy, platz in German-speaking countries, and simply “square” everywhere in between. In many small towns they have the Village Green. In essence they are the main gathering places for people.
Kungsträdgården: Stockholm’s Square for All
Stockholm’s Kungsträdgården has everything one could want in a great square. It is one of the most diverse and important squares in Europe
Campus Martius: The Catalyst for the Transformation of Downtown Detroit
“Every day, I can see thousands of people enjoying, using, and interacting in Campus Martius. The transformative success in social and economic development is priceless.” - Bob Gregory

6.2) Markets

Markets are hubs of community life. People of all kinds are drawn to markets with their dynamic atmosphere and broad variety of goods. Visitors shop with friends and family and the magnetism of markets makes a trip there not a chore but an enjoyable experience to be shared and savored.

Social Encounters of 4 Kinds: A Field Guide to Markets
A big reason we enjoy markets are the plentiful opportunities for conversation
Driving the Local Food Economy with Social Life: Munich’s Victuals Market
The Victuals Market (Viktualienmarkt) in Munich, Germany Central “Market Square” is typical of the historic squares around Europe, showcasing the local commerce, culture and diversity in the center of each city.
London’s Borough Market: A Public Market Driven by and for Social Life
The Borough Market is woven into the neighborhood. Coming at it from multiple directions one finds themselves suddenly in the market. The intensity increases as you get into the many the hearts of the market.
This Could Be the Main Street of the Future — Ithaca Farmers Market
Main streets are so important because they are the backbone of a community, but they don’t have to have just one look and form. This market in Ithaca is as good a main street as any other.
The Magic of Holiday Markets
Christmas markets around the world highlight dynamic year-round destinations in the center for most cities. They bring joy and celebration to all.

6.3) Waterfronts

The best waterfronts showcase a city’s rich history and offer diverse activities with beautiful views of the water, creating a vibrant place to live, work, and play. With one-of-a-kind commercial spaces, entertainment venues, parks, plazas, or markets, waterfronts frequently serve as a city’s living room and highlight its connection to natural bodies of water.

Capitalizing on the Appeal of Waterfronts: 11 of the Best
Of all the types of public spaces that exist, waterfronts are among the most strongly linked to the identity and history of a city. There could be no Stockholm without the harbor; no San Francisco away from the Bay; no Rio without its beaches.
Paris, the World’s Best Waterfront
Paris Plage challenges the idea of iconic design as a way for cities to show off. Instead centering the creation of iconic places, Paris Plage sets a high standard for other cities to emulate.
Pop-up Restaurants on the Waterfront: Six Cities that Do It Well
Eating along the water is almost universally appealing. We are drawn to the waterfronts that have them
Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper: Gabriel’s Wharf, London
Built in 1988, It took 3 months to develop, cost 78,000 pounds and created 60 jobs. It is still thriving today.

7) Fun, Comfort, Security

The best places make us feel happy, comfortable and safe. Placemaking is meaningless without the idea of fun and joy at its center. Why put in all this work to making public spaces better, unless the definition of "Building it Better" also means that these spaces bring us pleasure?


Public Spaces Where Kids Thrive: The Places That Work for Kids Work for Everybody
Kids bring energy and enthusiasm for life into public places and public spaces where kids thrive are great for people of all ages.
Paris - Bassin de la Villette: The Best Waterfront Yet?
Bassin de la Villette has become the best, most valuable part of the Paris Plage, connecting very different neighborhoods in Northeast Paris
Paris: What The City of Love Can Teach Us About Creating Spaces for Love
Public Displays of Affection. From simple eye contact to a kiss — human contact imbues a place with life. The natural expression of reaching out to communicate with or touch one another is a basic way of communicating, and is almost as important as breathing.


How Seating Shapes Welcoming Cities
Benches and seating are not objects; they are mirrors to our social behavior. We have seen it time and again, that where there is seating, there is life.
Couples and Friends Hanging Out - Public Spaces Where Affection Thrives
When trying to identify the great places around us, a good approach is to look for where the couples are.
Creating the Streets and Sidewalks We Love - Shifting Our Focus From Cars to People
Paradigm-shattering change will happen when streets, sidewalks and intersections are transformed into community gathering spots through the simple act of giving human beings priority over motor vehicles.


The Little Bollard That Could... Do a Lot
A simple tool that can make any city more walkable and pleasurable
Bollards: How They Add to Our Social Life in Communities
Bollards are used to define public areas, create a place to gather and socialize, or just feel safe while waiting to cross the street...and importantly separate vehicles and people
Killer Intersections vs. Shared Space: From Intersections that Divide to those that Connect
There is no bigger opportunity than creating an intersection that connects rather than divides. Connecting people to businesses and to each other helps everyone – social life, community, the local economy.
Streets as Places to Come Together: The Next Evolution for the Transportation Revolution
Getting our streets and sidewalks right means shifting our focus to the social life of our communities. Once community-led improvisation is a priority, we can take control of these spaces and make them active, inclusive, and just plain fun.

8) Social Life for All

The best places are those that feel welcoming and enjoyable for all. When we see a place where people of all ages and backgrounds have chosen to gather, we know that it is a place which has something to offer everyone, and therefore it is a heart of community life.

Social Life - How it Helps Shape the Future of Our Communities
Social life describes an entire ecosystem of human interaction that gives us meaning — and makes the very existence of our economy, community, educational system, arts and culture, science, and innovation possible. Reflections of Jay Walljasper.
Public Spaces Where Women Thrive
A photo essay that celebrates the social life of women in public spaces where women can thrive.
Public Spaces Where Kids Thrive: The Places That Work for Kids Work for Everybody
Kids bring energy and enthusiasm for life into public places and public spaces where kids thrive are great for people of all ages.
Men Hanging Out - Public Spaces Where Men Thrive
Men’s need for social connection is often overlooked, but this cannot be the case in the midst of an epidemic of loneliness. This photo essay looks at where male social life thrives.
Pets: The Ultimate Social Connectors
‘Pet-friendly’ places go a long way to restoring the social life of our cities.

Other groups doing important work in this field

Our First Organization

  • Project for Public Spaces brings public spaces to life by planning and designing them with the people who use them every day. PPS’s knowledge, skills, and strategies equip people around the world to create lasting change in strengthening their communities. (Founded by Social Life Project Founders Fred Kent, Kathy Madden and Steve Davies, PPS and the PPS blog is a great place to access some of our history, early work and resources.)

Our Current Work

  • The Placemaking Fund is a new non-profit whose goal is to achieve large-scale social and environmental change through the two inaugural programs of PlacemakingX and Social Life Project. The Placemaking Fund serves as an intermediary for funders who want to invest in the placemaking movement.
  • PlacemakingX is a global network of leaders who, together, accelerate placemaking as a way to create healthy, inclusive, and beloved communities.
  • Social Life Project highlights what makes public spaces thrive, drawing from communities around the world, in order to incite a renaissance of social life.

External Organizations

  • Open Streets Project is part advocacy project, part toolkit, part information database. It’s a one-stop shop for all things open streets (programs that temporarily open streets to people by closing them to cars). The team can offer aid and guidance to organizations and cities founding or growing their open streets programs.
  • Better Block educates, equips, and empowers communities and their leaders to reshape and reactivate built environments to promote the growth of healthy and vibrant neighborhoods.
  • Main Street America leads a movement committed to strengthening communities through preservation-based economic development in older and historic downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts.
  • Open Plans promotes civic engagement for livable streets. Their tools — information, education, and activation — empower residents to shape their communities.
  • The City Repair Project collaborates with communities to cultivate and facilitate community-led artistic, equitable and ecologically-oriented placemaking. City Repair actively supports groups to create thriving community through the creative reclamation of public space.
  • Strong Towns seeks to replace America’s post-war pattern of development, the Suburban Experiment, with a pattern of development that is financially strong and resilient. They advocate for cities of all sizes to be safe, livable, and inviting.
  • Congress for the New Urbanism champions walkable urbanism. They provide resources, education, and technical assistance to create socially just, economically robust, environmentally resilient, and people centered places. They leverage New Urbanism's unique integration of design and social principles to advance three key goals: to diversify neighborhoods, to design for climate change, and to legalize walkable places.
  • Happy Cities works with cities, developers, and non-profits around the world to maximize the wellbeing impact of public spaces, streets, infrastructure, and housing.
  • Mod Street helps communities with placemaking, revitalization and re-envisioning of their Main Streets and downtowns. They have designed a state-of-the-art solution for restaurants, breweries, retailers and communities, to offer guest service seating on sidewalks and in parking spaces.

If you believe your organization should be included in this list, please get in touch. These are global issues and we need to work together to create the change we need.

The mission of the Social Life Project is to incite a renaissance of community connection in public spaces around the globe. Our work grows out of more than 50 years devoted to building the global placemaking movement. It is an initiative of the Placemaking Fund, along with PlacemakingX — a global network of leaders who together accelerate placemaking as a way to create healthy, inclusive, and beloved communities. Through our online publication, presentations, campaigns, and catalytic projects, we can create transformative impact on communities everywhere.

If you are interested in helping to build a community-wide campaign or catalytic interventions, presentations, exhibits, or in supporting the cause in some other way contact us.

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