Placemaking: Putting life and soul into neighborhood spaces

Placemaking: Putting life and soul into neighborhood spaces

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With its focus on both the environment and ensuring a strong, healthy and fair society, sustainable development has become a key criterion in project pipelines the world over. This approach to development has gradually led us today to what we refer to in the hospitality industry as Placemaking. Chirine Salha, senior consultant at Ulysses Consulting tells us more

Placemaking is an urban planning movement that supports the development of lively and sustainable master-planning projects, such as real estate, resorts and compounds, by balancing specialized technical and financial components with the art of creating places that have a soul and will attract people looking to come together, eat and enjoy themselves. The concept doesn’t fall far from sustainable development, since bolstering communities by strengthening an area is critical to sustainability; you could argue that if we don’t have places that are worth caring about, they will simply not be sustained.

Placemaking seeks to collectively re-imagine public spaces in the community by transforming them into areas of activity and connection for the neighborhood. It inspires the transformation of underused spaces into vibrant gathering places, strengthening the community’s unity and making the neighborhood more desirable for people to live in, hence increasing the value of property there.

Here in Lebanon, Placemaking has much potential. Following the Lebanese wars, public spaces that were damaged and deserted remain, for the most part, neglected and misused to this day.

Cities in Lebanon are a geography of innovation. Beirut, for instance, features unique urban traits that include diverse religious, political and cultural communities, an overall lack of public space, a lack of basic urban functional infrastructure and large influxes of refugees and migrants. It has the right specs for creating quality public spaces that nurture creativity and innovation.

By engaging in a Placemaking process in such ad hoc cities as Beirut, we can, in practice, maximize our shared values, through community-based participation, and strengthen the connection between people and the space they all share together. The result will be the creation of quality public spaces, re-invented to see anew the potential of small gardens, downtowns, waterfronts, squares, neighborhoods, streets, markets, campuses and public buildings, among others.

The process should start by offering guidelines to help: funnel diverse opinions into a cohesive vision; translate that vision into a plan and development program; and ensure its implementation.

Here are some of the recommendations to help achieve these objectives successfully:
1. Involve the community
Placemaking revolves around observing, listening to and asking the people who live, work and play in a particular space questions, in order to understand their needs and aspirations for that space. This will help in obtaining community ownership, which means it will be better looked after and maintained over the years.

Through these observations, it will become clear what kind of activities are missing and what could be incorporated. Observation shouldn’t stop there; when the spaces are built, it’s important to continue observing them, since this will reveal even more about how to evolve, adapt and manage the area over time.

Teaming up with good, influential partners is critical to the future success and image of the project in hand. Potential partners could include local authorities, community groups and institutions or NGOs. Seek to engage young people by working with local schools and university groups, as they are often a key demographic in many locations.

2. Make a great space, not just a design
Make it a point to create high-quality public spaces. Design alone is not enough; other physical elements need to come into play, such as pedestrian circulation, seating, shelter, and the relationship between the retail segment and activities or entertainment taking place in the space.

Be sure to provide the means for people to access the destinations and get around them easily so that they are fully inclusive.

Great public spaces do not have to be design-heavy, multi-million-dollar projects – what matters is that they can generate change and positively impact communities. In fact, sometimes the most exciting spaces are low cost and in the most unexpected locations. Roofless buildings, with the potential to become gardens, coffee shops or concert spaces, are one such example.

3. Build on emotions
When developing Placemaking, use emotional and physical experiences to enhance the project. It’s worth remembering that emotional experiences will sustain the life of the project in the long term.

4. The test of time
For a great Placemaking project, you need to constantly redefine and improve the area. Elements such as seating, outdoor cafes, public art, landscaping and murals are examples of improvements that can be accomplished over time. Respond and adapt to the ongoing changes of the community’s needs and empower management with the flexibility to adapt to that change and follow up on wear and tear of amenities.

5. Support local economies
Aim to generate a positive impact on local economies by supporting local businesses and attracting further investment to the areas. Through this support, you are providing opportunities for businesses to flourish, as well as offering a variety of experiences to visitors.

Keep in mind that making a place is not the same as constructing a building, designing a hotel or developing a commercial zone. Using Placemaking in a process that isn’t really rooted in the community’s participation dilutes its value. As more communities engage in Placemaking and more professionals refer to it in their work, it is important to preserve the true meaning of the process. When people of all ages, skills and socio-economic backgrounds can not only enjoy a place, but also play a key role in its identity, creation and maintenance, then, and only then, will genuine Placemaking succeed.

At UMC, we have embedded Placemaking within our business processes and built our reputation on creating assets that deliver positive change for the community. With every development we undertake, we aim to make somewhere a better place. Our Placemaking strategy draws on the knowledge and experience we have accumulated through successful schemes and expresses how we will continue to anticipate the socio-economic, technological and cultural changes that will shape the great places of the future.

ulysses.consulting

Chirine Salha, senior consultant at Ulysses Consulting

“Placemaking is an urban planning movement that supports the development of lively and sustainable master-planning projects, such as real estate, resorts and compounds, by balancing specialized technical and financial components with the art of creating places that have a soul”

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