Placemaking: guest blog 1 by Cara Courage

When Richard asked me to curate a blog series on placemaking I jumped at the chance; placemaking is the focus of my current PhD research and I see so many examples of great placemaking, this is an opportunity to both share and celebrate this activity.

Each post will feature the work of a different placemaker from around the world, and it will close with a presentation of my nascent placemaking typology, with a call to you, the placemaking sector to feed in to this.

I start with Kylie Legge from Place Partners, Australia. Kylie works with a particularly creative approach to placemaking and I started by asking her what she thought of the 2010 NEA White Paper, written by Markusen and Gadwa, which defines creative placemaking thus:

“In creative placemaking, partners from public, private, non-profit, and community sectors strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighbourhood, town, city, or region around arts and cultural activities. Creative placemaking animates public and private spaces, rejuvenates structures and streetscapes, improves local businesses viability and public safety, and brings diverse people together to celebrate, inspire and be inspired”



Personally I think all placemaking is creative, in that by definition it is about innovation and problem solving. That being said Place Partners considers ourselves ‘strategic place makers’ and I do believe in more definition rather than less in the industry is needed. Regarding the ‘creative placemaking’ definition provided, it appears both comprehensive and clear in intention. I think the question regarding economic function is really interesting. In Australia we are seeing the arts and creative industries being ‘used’ to activate areas suffering an economic downturn or even failure.

Traditionally these place perhaps would have attracted entrepreneurs, particularly recent arrivals, looking for cheap space to start businesses – many of our most authentic precincts have emerged exactly like this and interestingly it is the change in social and cultural aspirations that is leading to the closure of many businesses as children choose not to take over from parents.

Kylie has used the term ‘collaborative placemaking’ in her publications too, part of her drive to see more clearly defined types of placemaking.


Shellharbour City Hub – community engagement to develop brief for new community asset



When we started using the term ‘collaborative placemaking’ it really was aimed at understanding the differences between professional led and community led. Of course we are massive proponents of all levels of collaboration but sometimes working with governments and corporates does not allow for the same opportunities for engagement let alone community collaboration. I think more recently ‘tactical urbanism’ and the lighter, quicker, cheaper movements have really captured the spirit of what we were trying to name – people working together, often outside formal processes, to create the places they wanted to spend time in.

My placemaking typology has been informed by Kylie’s introduction of the terms strategic, tactical and opportunistic placemaking.


What’s Great about Gympie – community engagement method for Gympie Town Centre Marketing and Branding Strategy



We define strategic placemaking as the long term, holistic planning for people focussed places. It is founded in contextual research, forecast data as well as current community values and aspirations. It’s about finding the path of change that meets people’s needs now and into the future. And while the public realm or shared spaces of a location may be the focus, there is an essential need to consider land uses and local economies – not just how people spend their spare time in public space. In many cases it also an organisational change process, de-risking a more open and collaborative process and aligning traditionally disparate groups.

Tactical placemaking captures the current trend toward lower cost, incremental changes that improve the public realm – importantly, even essentially – the intention of these projects should be for long term benefit, that is they should have a strategic objective.

Opportunistic or organic placemaking – we use these terms to capture place enhancements or changes that are implemented to meet a need of an individual or a small group at a particular time. This stream of placemaking can include the street artist, the yarn bombers, the guerrilla gardeners as well as the shopping centre using pop up parks to make their place more attractive.


Drummoyne Village – place enhancements as part of a public realm concept master plan


I agree with Kylie that we need more definition of placemakings – there is such a depth, breath and heritage of practice in the sector now that we have the critical mass of work to be able to do this. I believe its important to do so as it will helps us as a sector talk to each other more effectively and also communicate out to others what we do more effectively too.

The next blog will be looking at some deep placemaking that took place in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, a bold programme for the town and a challenge to the usual level of consultation undertaken by architects, developers and councils and shows just what transformative results this can yield.


Cara Courage
Arts: urbanist\placemaker\writer\curator
PhD candidate \ MSc \ BA \ FRSA

Featured (top) image: Penrith Trial Park – tactical delivery of public realm master plan for Penrith City Centre
All images courtesy of Place Partners