Placemaking Resource Center

In the summer of 2021 we had two major rain/hurricane storms. Each day, between 7 and 8 inches fell in Brooklyn where we live, on July 21st from tropical storm Henri and September 2nd from Tropical Storm Ida.

In the July storm our basement flooded from a sewer backup that did tremendous damage. It was a major tragedy. We have been collecting books, maps, artifacts from our over 40 years of travel around the world leading Project for Public Spaces and now the Placemaking Fund and its two programs: PlacemakingX and the Social Life Project. We have built out the basement to what we envision could become a center for global placemaking and a model for other Placemaking Centers around the world.

We also were looking forward to looking back at where we had been and the many cities we had visited. Adding our mileage up from our travels gave me, Fred, over 7 million miles and Kathy around 5 million miles. Covid-19 kept us at home starting on a return trip on March 14, 2020 and given us the opportunity we had hoped for. We have spent the last two years creating what could become the first Placemaking Center and putting together posts for the Social Life website.

Takeaway: What happened with the flood was an immediate need to look at what we had accumulated from our being forced to examine our resources for our insurance claim. We quickly realized the enormous value we had accumulated in these books, maps, project reports along with community processes we had developed in the form of project reports and evaluations.

Model for Placemaking Centers. Since Placemaking has always been about Community-led efforts, the idea around housing/locating Placemaking Resource Centers in libraries, city halls, schools and universities (and even religious institutions) quickly became evident.

So what are Placemaking Centers? Let’s start with what Placemaking Centers are not. They are "independent efforts", 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 the future of community-oriented and 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.

The Tragedy

Basement Front Area

Back and side areas

When we discovered the flooding we had over a foot and a half of water throughout the basement. All the books and papers that were on the ground or in the lower shelves were destroyed. They probably number over 500 items. We moved most of the damaged ones outside to dry them. We got a lot of "Fresh Direct" bags from our neighbor and filled them up.

Then we laid them out to dry and sorted them into categories

Some of the many precious books we lost

Before the Flood

We were preparing for the end of Covid-19 to begin to open our Placemaking Resource Center.

What we 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:

Our work was so intense that we would buy books to bring back that would help us remember what the cities and places we went were like. We especially 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 Street Life Project and started the post that we put together based on our explorations. The interesting outcome from looking back at all the photos was to literally go back with both our memories, and by looking carefully at the images we were able to see things that we did not necessarily see when we were there in the particular space. This allowed us to get more deep 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...

Then when we had the flood, a similar thing happened with the books and maps that we had collected. We quickly realized how valuable the books, maps and images were and are now looking at most of them realizing the really significant resource they are.

The Big Idea - The Placemaking Resource Center

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. 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 40 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 “Great Places” case studies and images, 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 (PlacemakingX) 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. People.
  11. Having fun.

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.

Join our campaign 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. 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!

Additionally, we need to replace some of the books we lost, but we also need to know what are the best books/resources for each of our transformative agendas. Do you have any recommendations? Or want to get rid of books or any documents, 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.

Share this post