GUEST POST: Kate Marillat
The making, building, designing of a place used to be the sole responsibility of town planners, developers and architects. Place-making changes all of that and creates true and socially based sustainability in the process.
By embracing the value of place-making and integrating it into the planning stages, it enhances sustainability because essentially human beings are vain and creative creatures. Whenever you look at a photograph, who is the first person you look for? Who do you study the most? Yes, yourself. We are interested in ourselves and our creations. So if part of ourselves goes into a design for a local place, we are more likely to be engaged with it. We will be less tolerant of others treating this environment in a negative way. Therefore, it becomes socially sustainable because of the meaning that we helped to create.
What is Place-making
Place-making is about “helping people create and sustain public spaces that build stronger communities…and that by connecting people and places; giving them a sense of ownership through meaning, function and potential will make our environments better places to work and play.” It is this ‘ownership’ that creates the sustainability of a place as it discourages anti-social behaviour and builds a connection with the people who use it.
So, how does a place obtain meaning? Designer Richard Wolfstrome who uses place-making and wayfinding in his work told me that “the place already has the meaning within it, but place-making is about finding those nuggets and bringing them to the surface through collaboration.” Essentially it’s a blend of research, history and collaboration with the surrounding community that actually uses (or will use) the place to find that nugget, that soul. And it begins at the smallest scale whether it’s a small park tucked away in Hove on the British South East coast or the warmer climes of downtown Santa Cruz in California.
An elephant’s graveyard to Santa Cruz’s square – Socially Sustainable Design
Wish park, Hove is a typical suburban park on the outskirts of a large British town. Think football pitch, children’s playground and a small café carved out between neat lines of semi-detached homes. Wolfstrome and his team won a local council tender after finding their nugget; it transpired that an elephant was buried deep in this park as it had died whilst a travelling circus was visited the seaside town years ago. Their core design replicates an elephant’s ribcage with paths and seating at either end. To create the narrative and meaning for this structure and essentially the place, the team will work with local schools and the surrounding community using creative workshops focussing on word play. This narrative will then be shaped and embedded into the design, potentially into the individual ribs thus creating meaning and a story behind the structure. What this process does is create real and sustained interest from the local community about what is happening in their local park. Imagine a child who is involved in this process, taking part in a workshop and finding their words etched into the installation. They would continue to be part of that installation over the coming years and therefore feel connected and protective of its preservation, hence the term social sustainability.
Across the pond in California, there is a place-making project afoot in Santa Cruz. Back in 1989 the earthquake that hit this area in California meant that much of downtown Santa Cruz (31 buildings to be exact) had to be rebuilt including Abbott Square which is a concrete courtyard outside the Museum of Art and History (MAH).
It is through initial workshops with local children and stakeholders that fresh ideas are emerging such as “theatre space, Chinese lanterns, a giant slide, a maze, a chocolate fountain, a zipline, flowers, a climbing wall, a tunnel – even a replica of the Titanic!” The project is now entering the planning stages and will use what will be uncovered from these workshops to inform and create the overarching design; whilst creating meaning and a socially sustainable design for the community in the process.
We are also no longer content to simply let the ‘big guys’ imprint their visions onto our cities and strongly demand a collaborative voice both for creativity and sustainable design. This in certain ways draws comparisons with models of collaborative consumption. The paradigms are changing. Place-making has to be the creative way forward for both sustainable design and a way for communities to have a voice in how their surroundings, and essentially how their lives are shaped.
(About the author: Kate Marillat, based in Britain, writes on clean energy and ethical travel. You can follow her on Twitter @ethicalbizkate)