“Placemaking” is everyplace these days. My Twitter feed (admittedly heavy on urbanism, land use, and transportation) positively bristles with #placemaking.
The Project for Public Spaces, the epicenter of placemaking theory and practice, says it’s “More than a fashionable phrase, it’s a whole new way of thinking about fostering vital communities.” In Forbes, placemaking is introduced to a wider audience as “a response to top down, regulation heavy environments” and Atlantic Cities has a placemaking topic page.
Placemaking, the label, is conceptually limiting and cannot hope to capture how, probably since the beginning of human settlement, public places evolve through use. At best, placemaking can try to catalog the ways public places become more useful, more used, and more valuable or how they fail to do so.
Placemaking is politically and practically limiting. Placemaking, in its judgmental usage against big budget, generic, sterile “lifestyle centers” or “festival marketplaces” or Eyesores of the Month generates unnecessary opposition from what I’ll call economic development traditionalists and pigeonholes it as a feel good, liberal luxury (along with new urbanism and smart growth). Further, the label starts to limit our thinking (time to hire an expert placemaking consultant!) instead of empowering regular people to keep trying things in their local places.