The business of placemakingWhy placemaking needs to be viewed differently

Published 16th August 2012Shares

The term "placemaking" stems from the 1960s and research conducted into how people use public spaces. The intention of such research was to help organisations design such spaces in a way that increased peoples' enjoyment of them.

Placemaking today remains a "buzz phrase", one used to cover a range of activities closely or sometimes distantly related to improving the enjoyment of public or at least shared spaces. However, much of that activity when applied to new real estate developments can steer wide of that original simple intention.

Driven by private profit objectives, developers often do not engage fully with what might be created in the spaces which are not directly sold or let within new developments, and at best commission an art piece to placate planners - as one London councillor recently in conversation with Totality, described as simply "doing art".

There are however increasing examples of more imaginative use of shared spaces within new developments, some planned in from the beginning, others sometimes a happenstance event, for example involving a "meanwhile use" initiative that becomes permanent.

Why marketing may help

More often than not, the notion of marketing is left until new schemes are designed and sales need to begin. Such a myopic view of what marketing can do prevents its involvement much earlier in the design and planning process. The real-estate industry is remarkable in how little it embraces the real role of marketing. In practically every other industry sector, marketing is interwoven with the product development process, encouraging a continual emphasis on understanding the consumer's and other stakeholders' needs and wants, and how to stand out in a competitive marketplace. In such a context, innovation and imagination become highly valuable tools. Embrace these tools within a process of "listening, learning and then doing in that order" (1), and this more inclusive marketing approach can provide more insightful and valuable ideas for the use of space.

Placemaking needs to stop being seen purely as an additional cost, and more as an investment offering a potential return. This perspective will lead to more enjoyable as well as more valuable use of shared space in new developments. To do this, placemaking must be seen as a business not just an art.

Totality provide a research and workshop-based consultancy process to integrate an inclusive marketing perspective to generate ideas and inform the placemaking of new developments.


(1) Urban Splash