Building a Successful Placemaking Strategy Amid Covid-19
Placemaking is a people-focused approach in the planning and design process of public spaces in cities. The approach pays attention to the needs of the people living in a particular place and aims to fulfil them. And as the density in our cities and urban places increases, urban designers need to create places where citizens feel engaged and places that respond for the increasing demands of the population and decrease the pressure on the built environment in terms of function and quality. However, Covid-19 has not made the task any easier on the placemaking practitioners who are trying now, more than ever, to maintain the connectivity of cities and communities.
Here are key points on how to build a successful placemaking strategy and the new measures that are being implemented as a response to the pandemic and its impact on designing successful public space.
1- Promote well-being through well-planned infrastructure: It goes without saying that healthy cities provide basic infrastructure to their citizens. A successful placemaking plan first aims at providing clean water, sanitation, sewage treatment, internet access, among other services for the population. In fact, as part of placemaking, the city of Toronto, for example, is trying to expand Wi-Fi and technology access to keep the citizens connected during the pandemic. On the other hand, in addition to creating spaces that encourage walking and reduce air pollution, countries around the world are implementing a new delivery system so that all citizens can have access to food and other essential supplies without having to get out of their houses during the pandemic.
2- Create multi-use squares and parks: Public squares and parks should all be planned to have a positive impact on the psychological health of the citizens. They are places where people feel safe to meet, socialize, and play. They should be able to help build local economies and promote social connection and human happiness. People should be able to do many different things in these places for them to be considered successful public spaces. This is why cities around the world, such as New York and Vienna among other cities are always planning to create multi-use squares and parks with many activities and attractions that are appropriate for all ages. But, Covid-19 has pushed the cities to take extra measures by creating seating spaces that are at a safe distance. Vienna’s Parc de la Distance, for example, was designed to create a crowd-free park that uses a maze system to ensure that safety measures are being taken, including social distancing.
3- Improve public streets: Well-designed streets are a fundamental element to the success of every city. A well-planned street is human-centered and takes into consideration the program and use of the functions implemented there and the way people would be using the space. It should be designed for people and places, not just cars. In fact, the perfect street should be able to support different means of transportation, such as cars, trains, buses, bicycles, and walking. Well-planned streets also affect what can be developed on those streets, whether it be restaurants, buildings, or stops, all of which help create more interpersonal interactions between citizens. Covid-19 has pushed cities to create more room for walking and cycling on their streets, with some cities repurposing some of their streets to create even more outdoor space. Cities like San Diego, for example, are also looking to enhance pedestrian street crossings by creating larger buttons that can be pushed with the forearms or elbows to decrease the chance of touching potentially contaminated surfaces in public. In Saskatoon, Canada, on the other hand, the buttons have now become automated, which means that the signals now work without the need to push the activation button.
4- Support local economies: Local businesses and public markets are urban destinations where people come together and exchange goods and ideas. These places should be productive and dynamic, and they should be able to solidify social ties and enhance social health. Cities thrive on businesses and markets, which often pushes them to support and encourage new initiatives and entrepreneurship. However, Covid-19 has had a large impact on local businesses, which is why cities are looking for new ways to support their local economy. Some of them, for example, have started compiling resources for small businesses, offering promotions and gift cards to the customers to encourage them to purchase local goods and services, and even offering sponsorships to local restaurants to prepare various meals for the local citizens.
5- Design attractive public buildings: Another strategy for successful placemaking is designing communal buildings with interesting interiors that welcome public to use the space. Attractive buildings also foster more opportunities for interpersonal interactions, where the interesting interiors can spark conversations between the visitors. Public institutions, museums, libraries, and government buildings are some examples of buildings that can attract more foot traffic and good economic support for the cities, in addition to engaging the surrounding urban environment. Cities are now setting new regulations for public institutions. They now have to open their doors at a much-reduced capacity, and some of them are taking new measures by setting up outdoor spaces with social distancing rules taken into consideration for their seating strategies.
6- Ensure community engagement: Successful placemaking ensures that the needs of the community are fulfilled. This is why it is important that cities engage local people in their planning projects. Local people have the best understanding of their needs and can help cities with insights and information about a certain place because they are the ones who use the space regularly and are the best source of ideas for what uses will work best. Partnerships are also an important factor that contributes to the success of placemaking and to the image of any public place that needs to be designed. They can help with funding and provide ideas and their visions on how to improve a specific public space. And, as has always been the case, engaging professionals, such as engineers, designers, and urban planners, is also important now more than ever because they act as facilitators for the cities’ vision and can implement new designs that can be suitable for the citizens during the pandemic. So, the key here today is to provide appropriate communication between the local people and the local government by having a place-maker encourage everyone to think about what’s special in their communities.
Placemaking plays a major role in achieving a sustainable community that seeks to maintain and improve its economic, environmental and social characteristics in order for its members to continue leading healthy, productive and enjoyable lives. This is where placemaking comes into play, as it helps harmonize the expectations and needs of the community. Cities often start small with their planning, making small moves, like creating places to sit, building sidewalks, painting crosswalks, opening a café, or planning events. And with Covid-19 affecting the local communities, the cities have now become more responsible for the people’s well-being and health, aiming to create places that contribute to a positive and lasting effect on the community through successful placemaking.