Project for Public Spaces (PPS) has been championing placemaking in New York City since 1975.   After decades of hard work,  2016 was declared “the year the placemaking movement went global” - made possible through a series of inspiring and global gatherings that have put placemaking on the New Urban Agenda.  


Being based in London and working for Place Leaders Asia Pacific in Sydney, I indeed feel part of this global placemaking movement. Looking at the international placemaking events planned for 2017 has sparked me to ask: Who are the urban actors working in ‘placemaking’ across global regions? And how has the conversation centred on placemaking changed since its first inception in the 1970s.



Reflecting on the region that I am most familiar, Australia’s public sector - particularly city councils and development agencies - have been primarily responsible for driving the placemaking agenda across the country.  In 2004, the Place Leaders Association (PLA) was formed and has evolved to more broadly support a strong network of professional Placemakers, thinkers and leaders across Asia-Pacific.  Bob Perry is the Chair of PLA and reflects on the strengths and opportunities for the region:

“We can say that place thinking is ‘en marchė’ in Asia Pacific. Envious of the physical charm of European cities, we fashion new communities, both dense and suburban, with an aspiration for self-sustaining social interaction. Government agencies, developers and communities are undertaking tactical interventions in the future, with aspirations for places that will work. Place-by-place, social infrastructure is increasingly captured at the crossroads of political consents for new development”.


Perry highlights how placemaking has reinvented the Asia Pacific region from reimaging Australian suburbs through multicultural communities; “designing around the philosophies of the country’s first people” in New Zealand, and; “greening the urban environment” in the global city of Singapore.


“Digital technology gives us the smarts to accelerate innovations; to connect different tribes with each other and with their own places. At the same time we need to ensure that places, both new and familiar, are sufficiently authentic and diverse to give us welcome respite from the titanic waves of the virtual that are rolling in.”


In any case, there is an emerging regional appetite to innovate and to challenge place governance, finance and leadership, inspiring upcoming conferences such as the Big Ideas in Place, to be held at The Connection in Rhodes  from 29th-31st May 2017.



On the other side of the globe in the United Kingdom (UK), the Institute of Place Management (IPM) was formed in 2006 as a professional body developed by Manchester Metropolitan University and the Association of Town Centre Management.  In April, I spoke to the chair of IPM, Cathy Parker, about the placemaking changes happening in the UK. She explains:


“The greatest [place-making] shift has come as a result of macro-environmental disruption. From austerity to internet shopping, the traditional players for place development are unsure what to do, how to do it or who will fund it.  This has opened up valuable space for a whole host of new people and partnerships to reinvent towns and cities in the U.K.: from pop-up retailing to ambitious community housing projects.  And what's even better is that the traditional players are very willing to learn from this innovation. There has been a huge recalibration from generic principles of 'best practice' unquestionably transferred from place to place to a genuine appreciation of the value of local insight, experiments and enthusiasm.” 


Parker highlights that in the absence of public or private funding there is an opportunity to “champion new approaches” to placemaking and the networks that support the process. 


“the growth of Business Improvement Districts in the U.K. shows the appetite for businesses to have a more hands on role in influencing the placemaking agenda. These businesses have a symbiotic relationship with the spaces they locate in and the more engaged they are in those ecosystems the better for everyone”.


It is therefore fitting that IPM will host its 7th Biennial conference in Manchester entitled, ‘Inclusive Placemaking’.




While the world is embracing placemaking as a global movement in the United States (US) where the concept was first coined, community-led action has defined the evolution.   Inspired by the urban activist Jane Jacobs, the focus in the States has been on empowering citizen participation and adopting collaborative community processes and approaches to creating and revitalizing public spaces.  Earlier this year, I spoke with Ethan Kent, Vice President of PPS, about the placemaking changes happening in the US: 

“Philanthropist, developers and other disciplines have gotten involved more recently (for better and worse), but all are disconnected from each other and working in their own silos. Government is just starting to look at placemaking”. 


Unlike Australia and the UK, Kent points out that government in the States is only starting to acknowledge placemaking as a powerful approach to urban planning.


It is evident that across each of the aforementioned regions placemaking has been adopted, molded and moved forward by a different sector with its own agenda. In spite of placemaking’s many faces, the current global shift now demands: how can the practice become more inclusive and representative?  All regions need to learn how to break down silos between government, community and the private sector to deliver urban outcomes that are equitable and sustainable.  As Kent aptly argues:

“… regardless of scale, (neighbourhood, city or region) the goal is for every sector and player to contribute to places.  When one sector, or user group dominates, the public benefits for all is limited”.   Ethan Kent, PPS


In this light, I encourage you – place leaders from across disciplines - to get involved in the number of global conferences this year that have started to address the theme of inclusion and diversity: Hope to see you at one of the listed conferences!



AUSTRALIA: BIG IDEAS IN PLACE: Place Leaders Asia Pacific 29-31 May 2017

UK: The value of place: Future of London, London 28th June 2017

UK: Inclusive Placemaking: Institute of Place Management, Manchester 7-8 September 2017

EUROPE: Placemaking Week: PPS, Amsterdam 11-14 October 2017

issue 03. autumn 2017