Create more value, put community participation at the heart of placemaking

20 Nov 19

Regardless of your views on what it is, placemaking is unquestionably being given greater attention by both the public and private sector.


The definition of placemaking, what it is and what it isn’t, and whether it is something a community should welcome, has long been debated.

Regardless of your views on what it is, placemaking is unquestionably being given greater attention by both the public and private sector. Local authorities are committing scarce resources to masterplanning and devising mechanisms to forward fund key social infrastructure. The Government has pledged billions through financing schemes such as the Home Building Fund and the recently expanded High Street Fund. Private developers are introducing cultural uses and spending money on public realm.

There is a growing recognition that the key to delivering long-term economic and social value must be a focus on the quality of the place that is created – its life beyond the policy document, architects drawing board or branding consultants marketing material.

But barriers still exist and prevent the best ideas being realised.

Placemaking should break down silos across professions and sectors. When policy makers, planners, designers, surveyors and developers put collaborative working, particularly with local communities, at the heart of the process higher returns are possible for all involved.

Indeed, the most successful and long-lasting examples of placemaking are often those that grow naturally from ideas within the community that create a uniqueness that is born out of its social and physical context. Despite this, too often engagement is not seen as a key part of the process.

This is arguably short sighted: commercial viability is key to realising development and effective community engagement reduces risk and allows for more money to be invested in creating good places. But to do so is also a brave act, embracing an element of the unknown to allow an organic process to develop.

So how do we begin to define success. What is a successful place and how to ensure investment continues to contribute to this success?

There are a number of evaluation tools that are now used to track common metrics such as footfall, the number of local businesses taking up retail units, inward investment and wider economic upsides. Measures now go beyond the technical into assessing social value and true community benefit. Social value brings investment and increased financial return, by creating somewhere people want to be, good placemaking can pay off financially as well as socially.

Developers and their assembled teams should make practical recommendations on important issues from the outset of projects. Understanding the multiple layers of a project from design and technical priorities, delivery constraints, commerciality and sustainability to meanwhile uses and opportunities for young people and the wider community. We put projects into their specific and unique context, get inspired by the history and people, and celebrate its past, present and future to the fullest.

Placemaking isn’t a new idea, but we can do it better and create more value for all involved. A focus on creating strong partnerships is key, between landowners, developers, public bodies and the community.

Philippa Curran is a Director of Engagement at Iceni Projects and has a track record in building successful partnerships between communities, local authorities and the private sector to deliver projects.