Making a place. A place is a physical location invested with value and meaning. People care about it and have memories associated with it. Making - creating, having directly designed and implemented aspects associated with the place (for example, building a bench or planting a garden).
Placemaking distinctly implies that projects are created in the places where people live, by the people who live there. A history of Placemaking from The City Repair Project's perspective in Portland: here.
There is no 'end'. Once a project is completed, there is clean up, and at sunrise the next day it is already changing. The paint is wearing, the plants are growing, the wood is expanding and contracting. Placemaking implies some level of maintenance and thus a cyclical celebration of clean up, repair, revision, improvement, expansion, simplification, and adjustment. The projects evolve as members of the community come and go, the level of involvement waxes and wanes depending on the season, and over time the history of the Place rests in so many people's personal memories it takes on a life of its own, impacting each person interacting with it in a unique way.
Part of why I am passionate about this work is this very aspect of multi-layered... Actively since 2008, new dimensions of what "Placemaking" means unfold for me... It feels strange to separate them into categories given they are all different expressions of the same work, but while this is by no means representing all possibilities for understanding its application, we can begin to see the many ways this concept is at work.
Transforming neighborhoods? Completing a project for an intentional community? Forming a rural tool-sharing network? Overall, these processes are fun and the results are usually quite beautiful. At its simplest, Placemaking is just about getting to know the people around you and trying something together.
Considering the ecological implications of most of our lives being played out so far from our homes and most of our resources coming from very far away, Placemaking brings our daily needs closer to home. Even a 1 day block party gathers neighbors together to not drive, not consume, but instead enjoy the simplicity of staying, and security in getting to know the people who live near. Physical projects create totems of these relationships formed, and bring us ever closer to "Walkable Neighborhoods".
In the United States and other 'developed' nations, cultural isolation is of serious concern for the mental health of the general population, and the ability for local governances to be effective by actually having an opportunity to talk to one another. When people thoughtfully interact with their government, and government acts on a local level, appropriate decisions can be made for the total health of the community.
Asset maps and neighborhood networks build resilient communities that learn how to work with each other for daily needs as well as effectively respond and prepare for emergencies.
When we go to places where we have good memories, we have good feelings, and good feelings reduce our stress, regulate our heartbeat, and balance our emotions.
As human beings, we like to put our stamp on the environment, and when we do it in a way that is harmonious with nature, it makes us feel relaxed, and the project better suits the surroundings. In the end, it is less 'work', and more time for enjoying the process.
Spiritual revival of the land is taking place. Placemaking projects say, "Hey! We're paying attention to this land, we're doing things that we love, and we're trying to heal this place." It invites the Spirit of the Place back if it has ever left, and it strengthens the spirit present and gives it expression through the community action. One could also think of it as the 'good feeling' people get when they come there.
We create a personal "place" in our Hearts by asking ourselves what part of this work really calls to us? Are we the artist, the organizer, the bookkeeper, the builder, the work party cookie baker, the behind-the-scenes support, the historian, the charismatic spokesperson, or the kid's clubhouse extraordinaire? There are many roles that have a chance to be honored in collaborative projects and it is an opportunity worth embellishing.
World Peace starts at home.
"Typically other people’s problems seem simpler, uncomplicated and easier to solve than those of one’s own society... in simple terms, the lack of knowledge of other cultures makes them easier to help." ~ Rafia Zakaria
When we do Placemaking Projects, we are transforming our immediate community for the benefit of all, developing a hyper-local culture we can be proud to come from. Many Placemaking projects are accomplished with a group of people who six months previously did not even know each others' names. We put aside our judgements and fears in order to work together from a basis of what we have in common, and the values that we share. The ability for us to practice this small level of compassion and collaboration radiates out in many realms - the simplest being our direct relationships - where we know our actions are making a difference because we can see, sense, and feel them changing in a positive way.
When we learn to meet our direct needs in the places where we live, we come from a Generative Place of genuine peace and creative action. I'm sure if you were to consider the essence of Placemaking for yourself, you would find you are already doing it in your own life in some way. Savor the reality of living in a world that is functional, beautiful, and healthy, which you can amplify in your own way at any time. In the singing words of Frances Michaelson, "The world is as beautiful now as it every will be, there is nothing more to wait for."