As Placemakers, we have traveled all around the world to work on placemaking projects in countless communities. Our mileage of travels throughout the years adds up for me, Fred, to over 7 million miles traveled and for Kathy, around 5 million miles. We have spent the last 5 years collecting the insights we have gathered from our decades of travel and placemaking projects into articles and resources that we hope will lead to the creation of the first Placemaking Resource Center.

We have enormous value accumulated in books, maps, project reports and records of community processes we had developed in the form of project reports and evaluations.

With all these tools and resources available, and since Placemaking by definition has always been about community-led efforts, the idea to create Placemaking Resource Centers quickly became evident. Placemaking is the fundamental process of how a community works together to make the spaces they share better. There should therefore be a system of support available to encourage and aid this kind of activity in community hubs like libraries, city halls, schools, universities and even religious institutions.

So what would these Placemaking Resources Centers be exactly? Let’s start with what Placemaking Centers are not. They are not design firms, municipal planning offices, or academic institutions, although members of those entities would be key leaders. They are not prescriptive--not about telling people what to do with their communities, but soliciting their own ideas about what they want to do, and then showing them the tools to make it happen. Placemaking Centers are not expensive installations or exhibits. They are not one-size-fits-all. And they are not dead-on-arrival--they are evolving community-led creations.

Placemaking Centers are "independent efforts" and they are the future of community-oriented and community-led public space planning. They are hubs: centers of activity where great ideas become action. They show everyday people how design can be made more open. They are rooted in communities, for communities, and by communities. Placemaking Centers are inherently optimistic. By showing people examples of thriving, accessible public spaces with lively social lives, they inspire new visions for what’s possible (often at very low costs). Placemaking Centers are living laboratories for co-creating the public spaces every town deserves.

How do they work? We’ll give some preliminary ideas below, keeping in mind that every community will create the Center that serves them: urban, rural, small or large-scale spaces, cultural considerations...the list goes on. No two places are the same. No two Placemaking Centers will be the same, either.

Our Version

We have been working on our own Placemaking Resource Center in our Brooklyn home. It's an example of what we envision these hubs potentially looking and feeling like - welcoming places to sit and gather, surrounded by interesting and helpful books and resources on how to create great communities.

What we have learned

From our over 40 years of collecting books and maps related to Placemaking, and our extensive travel to cities around the world (taking images and movies observing social life where it happens and what it means), and creating a large space in our basement:

We brought back so many books from around the world to help us remember what the cities and places we visited were like. We took images of the best public spaces in each city... Then with Covid-19 starting in March 2020 forcing us to stay home, we started the Social Life Project and started creating posts that we put together based on our explorations.

The interesting outcome from looking back at all our photos, nearly a million of them from over the years, was that we could "go back" to so many places in our memories, and by looking carefully at the images we were able to see things through fresh eyes, noticing things that we did not necessarily see when we were there in the particular space. This allowed us to get deeper into understanding what was special about the spaces we had visited and to do stories about what we saw, even though the trips might have been taken as long as 50 years ago. It really opened up our eyes to what is possible and how much better our places can be.

The Big Idea - Local Placemaking Resource Centers

With all this happening so quickly, we began to realize the full value of our collections and thought about a basic idea of creating Placemaking Centers in Libraries, City Halls, Community Centers etc. where people of all ages could come and envision their future. So, The Placemaking Resource Center is something we need to explore to support the global PlacemakingX movement.

These centers would be organic and productive places for people to come together, reflect on the social life of their cities and communities, spark new ideas through conversations and case studies, and be inspired to take the social life of these places into their own hands. They would be hands-on, experiential, image-driven, and results-oriented – that is, the resources provided would be foundational to jumpstarting place-based social life across the globe, led of course by local residents and community leaders.

The whole idea of the Placemaking Centers is that, if people can see what has successfully happened in other communities across the world, they can see how easy it is to make change in their own communities. They just don’t know it’s possible yet. The resources aren’t yet consolidated and available. By providing a rough blueprint based on our 50 years of Placemaking work for “how to turn a place around,” local people with vested interests could customize our methods based on the unique needs of their place – but the guiding principles remain the same.

Placemaking Centers are natural extensions of libraries, the public meeting of the minds, and town/city halls, the democratic commons. They would have both passive aspects to browse, such as case studies and images of great places, as well as more active components such as pop-up Placemaking and crowdsourcing/brainstorming events, or even just questions that residents answer on-site that spark ideas and dialogue.

Each center would be led by local activists/community organizers (perhaps from the PlacemakingX network) to facilitate and lead Placemaking conversations since this is an art as much as a skilled process. But the bottom line is that the resource centers are engaging, thought-provoking, inspirational mini-town squares (“third places”) where people come to get galvanized about improving the social life of their communities--even if they’ve never thought about this before but just have a feeling that something needs to change or could be better. The centers show towns their potential through the power of images and the classic tactic of “I’ll have what [that Great Place] is having.”

Where we are with the Placemaking Fund

Our Placemaking Fund work has evolved substantially since we started it last year. The Placemaking Fund was started in 2020 with two programs: PlacemakingX and Social Life Project. PlacemakingX is a a global network of thought leaders, public space activists, regional network leaders, and professionals who together accelerate placemaking as a way to create healthy, inclusive, and beloved communities. Currently PlacemakingX is formed by 100+ leaders and 1,300+ advocates from 80+ countries around the world.

The second program, The Social Life Project, has a twofold approach: telling the stories of communities that have done outstanding Placemaking work, and creating agendas for catalytic change driven by these success stories. Drawing on our over 40 years' experience with Placemaking and based on our early work with William "Holly" Whyte, we are inciting a renaissance of community connections. They are centered around our lead concept, "Build Back Better, Together: 11 Transformative Agendas to Restore Social Life in Your Community." We are starting a global dialogue from small towns up around the 11 agendas, through which we will launch city and regional campaigns for catalytic Placemaking projects. This is the ambitious and vital mission of the Social Life Project.

The eleven agendas are :

  1. Bring back the public square.
  2. Using markets to strengthen neighborhoods.
  3. Sidewalks first--streets as places.
  4. Architecture of Place--applying design as a tool for creating destinations and turning buildings inside-out.
  5. Spawning new community hubs--multi-use destinations.
  6. Capitalizing on the appeal of waterfronts.
  7. Expanding cultural destinations to spark everyone's imagination.
  8. Strengthening assets that express a city's character.
  9. Highlighting a community's identity by creating great amenities.
  10. Social life for all.
  11. Having fun.
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.

Our 5 Major Campaigns

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.
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.
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.
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.

Global Campaign

Through our two newest initiatives, PlacemakingX and The Social Life Project, we are launching a global campaign for truly catalytic placemaking projects at every scale. Together, we can restore public spaces to their essential role: providing social gathering spots that enrich local life by connecting people, and empowering them to create stronger communities.

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.
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.

Join our movement by sharing your stories of successful public spaces with Social Life Project, offering up ideas or resources for a Placemaking Center in your community, joining the PlacemakingX network, or identifying key areas in your town that could be a fit for transformative change along the 11 agendas and 5 campaigns. Help us start conversations at the local and regional levels about the vital need for community-led placemaking. We invite you to join our ongoing dialogue – for the future of all our public spaces!

We are also seeking to expand our collection of resources on how to built better communities. We need to know what the best books/resources are for each of our transformative agendas. Do you have any recommendations? If you want to get rid of any books or documents on these topics, let us know.

The mission of the Social Life Project is to incite a renaissance of community connection in public spaces around the globe. Through our online publication, presentations, campaigns, and catalytic projects, we can create transformative impact on communities everywhere. 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. We gladly accept donations to advance our work.

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