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Shifting the focus on Placemaking

Project for Public Spaces vice president, Ethan Kent, talks about the differences between project-driven cities and what can happen when communities are engaged in the co-creation of urban space.

The New York based Placemaking expert spent two days in Adelaide last week speaking to the city’s planners, precinct groups, police and transport lobby groups about how they could work with communities to activate areas of the city.

“A Placemaking approach is a transformatively different approach to planning cities,” Kent said.

“It’s about starting with the place, its use, and the community, and challenging them to be part of the process.

“Ultimately the best public spaces are places owned by the community; [places] that they helped shape, and want to help manage and maintain over time,” Kent said.

Project for Public Spaces (PPS) is known for leading bold experiments like the partial road closure of New York’s Times Square to test the need for additional seating and greater space for pedestrian activity.

The experiment resulted in permanent changes to the city infrastructure.

PPS stops traffic in Broadway. Photo: NYC Dpt of Transport

Placemaking encourages city planners to adopt “lighter, quicker, cheaper” projects like temporary road closures to test what could otherwise happen in that space, if its use was explored.

The projects aim to build community, and give people more reasons for visiting a place.

“It’s not just a way to activate public spaces in a low-cost, short-term kind of way, but a way to start to engage people in a discussion about how our public spaces can be improved,” Kent said.

Adelaide City Council’s six-month city activation project, Splash Adelaide, was inspired by the success of Placemaking projects around the world.

“With Splash Adelaide, we’ve essentially adopted the PPS principles of ‘lighter, quicker, cheaper’…and got a full delegation of council members to waive any policies or procedures that may otherwise have prevented us from activating the city,” Council CEO Peter Smith told the Place Leaders Association.

Now in its second year, support for Splash Adelaide has continued to grow.

Council received 70 Splash Adelaide project applications from the community last month, almost three times the number of applications submitted in 2011.

Read also: Splash Adelaide launches for a second year

Past projects ranged from pop-up cinemas, outdoor markets and led to an increased number of mobile food vendors around the city.

“A crucial learning, for me, is that community leaders need to be actively sought out and consulted – because they know the place far better than government ever will,” Smith said.

“If you get behind them, it is easier to create a great place.”

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