‘Place-making Week’, an initiative of the New York based Project for Public Spaces (PPS), is being held on 12 - 17 September 2016 in Vancouver BC, Canada. This six-day event provides an opportunity for professionals to join 1,500 urban thinkers from over 100 countries to help shape the future of place-making.  The week includes a number of individual events and will feature the Place-making Leadership Forum. The timing of this event is crucial, falling just prior to the UN Habitat III conference in Quinto Ecuador in October 2016.


Fred Kent, Founder and President of PPS, one of the plenary speakers at the Place-making Leadership Forum, describes the importance of Place-making Week:


"This is a monumental event, and couldn’t come at a more critical time as we think about the future of our cities—from Liverpool to La Paz. Whether you’re interested in healthy neighbourhoods, resilience, or urban equity, public space is central to all of these issues. The leading minds from around the world will be gathering in Vancouver to plan collaborative action to elevate communities worldwide."


The Place-making Leadership Forum will be divided into two events: ‘The Future of Places’ international summit designed to advocate the importance of public space and place-making at the Habitat III conference in 2016; and a meeting of the Place-making Leadership Council to discuss the best strategies for implementing the New Urban Agenda.


I spoke to two urban strategist and members of the Place-making Leadership Council, Maria Adebowale-Schwarte (Director and Founder of ‘Living Space Project’, UK) and Lucinda Hartley (co-founder of CoDesign Studio, Australia), and asked them some questions on their hopes for the upcoming Forum.


Vanessa: Why did you join the Place-making Leadership Council?


Maria: Place-making is a collaborative process, and it needs collaborative leadership across sectors, professions, communities, and organisations at a global and local level. The Place-making Leadership Council has been crucial to this process and leading its agenda for many years.


Lucinda: Place-making is a very new area of city-making. While the concepts behind it have been around for decades, there is still a lot of confusion about its role, function and impact. I joined the council because I was interested to learn more about the value and role of place-making in other places overseas, to share lessons learned from our work in Australia. It’s also very encouraging to see a place-making movement building.  There is certainly more strength in what we can do together rather than alone.

Vanessa: How can the Place-making Leadership Council help shape the Habitat III conference? 


Maria: The Council can offer compelling stories and examples illustrating just how place-making can disrupt the old school approach to habitat and bring in inclusive and vibrant place led models that improve human habitats.  We need to demonstrate not only the social justice and environmental goals of place-making, but its ability to create economic prosperity. 


Lucinda: Place-making and public space are firmly on the agenda for Habitat III and there are clear directives on public space in the draft New Urban Agenda agreement. This is the first time public space has been given such significant attention, and it is a credit to the work of the Place-making Leadership Council, who have really pushed for its inclusion. There was little mention of place-making and public space in the Habitat II (1996) agreement. We have come a long way. This shows a strong evolution in the thinking of global policy makers and UN member states around the role of place-making and public space. But there is still much work to be done. Habitat III will only have an impact if we can collectively lobby our own national governments to a) support its objectives and b) implement its agenda.


Vanessa: From an Asia Pacific perspective, what do you think are some of the pressing issues that need to be discussed? 


Lucinda: Most of the world’s urban population growth in our generation will occur in Asia Pacific. The issues are strikingly diverse – from Asia’s rapidly growing mega-cities to the pressing climate change resilience issues of Pacific Island nations. One of the challenges is that most of the conversation around place-making and public space remains Eurocentric. While there are key lessons to be learned from Europe, and the global north, each city and region has their own cultural expression of public space. We need to think more broadly around the definition and function of inclusive public space. While everyone needs public space, Squares and Parks might not work everywhere. There are also amazing lessons that we can learn from, particularly Asian cities. I would be interested to see Australia draw more lessons and experience from our neighbours.  

Vanessa: From a UK perspective, what do you think are some of the pressing issues that need to be discussed? 


Maria: The UK is a wealthy country but we're still battling with what place-making means for us, over and above a design and architectural concept.  The three big issues are: 


1. The need for policies and practices that give communities a real seat at the place-making table.

2. The siloed approach to place-making - we need to understand that co-creation is its central ethos.

3. Understanding that place-making is not a soft issue; it's hard-edged with a sweet spot that connects environment to social inclusion and fair economics, and creates stakeholders with a strong sense of responsibility to the local (and arguably global) agendas.


Vanessa: How will the 'New Urban Agenda' change the development of cities in the future? 


Maria: The New Urban Agenda is exciting. As it states in the preamble, urbanisation offers 'a formidable engine to achieve development'. The paradigm shifts it is advocating could happen if urban (and rural) place-making is at the heart of it - not supporting business as usual but acting as a factor for disrupting the status quo. It serves as a script for creating exciting partnerships, transformative policies and financial frameworks that build equity and prosperity while enhancing the economy, environment and society.


Lucinda: The New Urban Agenda marks a clear shift in thinking about urban development from previous UN agreements on cities. The major shift is a commitment to equitable development, to “Leave no one behind”. The New Urban Agenda is clear that sustainable urban development, reduction in poverty and improvements in liveability cannot be achieved through this rights-based approach to city-making. Member States of the UN who sign up to the Habitat III agreement will then be urged to develop similar policies and implementation strategies in their respective countries. If this can be achieved, then it will be a huge win for sustainable development, but also for everyday citizens who will see improvements in inequality, inclusion and liveability. Our challenge is then to work with our national governments to make sure that our domestic policies recognise the important role place-making in achieving equitable urban development.



Maria Adebowale-Schwarte is the Director and Founder of ‘Living Space Project', an urban place and green spaces think tank and consultancy firm based in the UK.  She is also a Board Member of The Environment Agency; Chair of The South East England Committee Heritage Lottery Fund and Trustee of the Trust for Conservation Volunteers.


Lucinda Hartley is co-founder of place-making consultancy firm CoDesign Studio, a social enterprise tackling social exclusion through exciting, neighbourhood improvement projects. She has worked with the UN World Urban Campaign Steering Committee to guide the formation of the New Urban Agenda for Habitat III and served as an elected youth advisor to UN-Habitat for five years.

We encourage place-making practitioners to get involved. For more information, follow the links below:
September: Place-making week, Vancouver, B.C., Canada

October: UN Habitat III conference, Quinto Ecuador.