In a recent white paper, the Local Government Association acknowledged a growing recognition of the importance of cultural activities in the lives of people, communities and places. It states, “What is local and unique has special value and should be supported and encouraged.” Cultural identity is strongly tied to a sense of belonging, engagement, understanding and appreciation of where people live. Civic pride raises the confidence and aspirations of a community.
Above and beyond urban design, placemaking is instrumental in shaping our environment to better serve the community and support its future growth. It’s about defining space through cultural creativity, economic activity, and social connectivity. Listening to the community is key, residents provide important information used in assessing the effective delivery of services that are meant to benefit them. As placemaking professionals, the earlier we involve them, the better.
Seems obvious really doesn’t it? It’s about listening to the people whose lives we affect in the places we regenerate. It’s about forming strong partnerships between local government, the private sector and community organisations to pool our resources, knowledge and expertise.
An inspiring example is the Camden Highline. Taking its cue from NYC’s famous park, The Highline, Camden BID (Camden Unlimited) is spearheading a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for a feasibility study towards making the project a reality. London mayor, Sadiq Khan joins over 200 residents, community groups and businesses that have already pledged support to turn a half-mile stretch of disused railway line into a new public park and garden walk.
Urban gardening project, Incredible Edible in Todmorden was started by a group of like-minded people whose aim was to bring people together in building a kinder, more sustainable community, and help change attitudes and behaviour towards the environment. The locally grown food is shared by the community and since its conception in 2008 has become a full-fledged movement. Their ethos has been taken up by communities all over the world and there are now 120 Incredible Edible official groups in the UK and more than 700 worldwide.
Finally, after attending the annual conference of the Institute Place Management in Manchester a few weeks ago, a couple of other initiatives caught my attention:
Jan Brown from Liverpool John Moores University, presented “Connecting the Sound Tracks of Our Lives: Marketing Places Through Music.” Jan proposed innovative marketing campaigns using various media to create multisensory communications. Her paper explores the various music styles of a place and how they connect the community inclusively.
In her book, Cara Courage, a collaborative creative placemaker and arts consultant, explores the role of art in placemaking in urban environments. She analyses how artists and communities use arts to improve their quality of life and explores the concept of social practice placemaking, where artists and members of the community are equal experts in the process. Arts in Place. The Arts, the Urban and Social Practice byCara Courage
Working together, as an inclusive community that includes professional placemakers, artists, musicians, local councils and residents, we can create better places to live. When the environment inspires us, our connections strengthen and we become truly aware of the community.