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Placemaking Tactics

Placemaking is a sensibility for out-of-home places beyond the public square.
When talking about placemaking design, tactics, and ideas, it's all about the details.

We’ve found that when talking about placemaking design, tactics, and ideas for achieving great gathering places, it’s all in the details.   Fortunately, there are a lot of ingredients that can be introduced in making a place compelling.  And since we work for both public- and private-sector clients, we believe that there is a monetization strategy possible with these places.   It has been interesting to watch the evolution in what place making is considered to be, as more and different contributors to the subject make their mark!


Why Bother With Placemaking?


Well, its fun at home … and there are a lot of facilities and places competing for consumer attention during their leisure-time … how best for an out-of-home destination place to compete?  … around the world, the in-home experience has been augmented by technology – the Internet-enabled life, mobile phones, satellite and cable television, oversized LED screens, home theaters, video game platforms … and consumers everywhere have seen blockbuster effects-laden films, visited the great theme and amusement parks … and shopped and dined at satisfying malls and districts … How to meet and exceed a consumer’s expectations in a world where a consumer may believe they have seen everything?


About Placemaking Design and Tactics - Adventure Entertainment

Trancas Country Market (Malibu, California) provides illustrates how micro-placemaking can occur even in a grocery-anchored community shopping center. The pocket park and its edges works on so many levels, and is a popular community gathering place.



Some Important Factors and Some Placemaking Ideas


A sense of place. A wonderful simple yet intangible feeling made up of a complex tapestry of many things – at once an experience of the moment, as well as feelings for a place’s history, romance, and role in our community. Cultivating a sense of place is among the highest objectives.  However that may be defined.


We look for placemaking opportunities in almost all of our work, whether the place is for large community gatherings, a large project’s central court, or simply the incidental moments where people move about within smaller facilities.


Some things we think about regarding placemaking are provided in the following.   There is no particular order the factors, and of course, every place is about different circumstances.   Hopefully.   And we note that for us this is an open article – we’re dropping content about creative placemaking design, tactics, and ideas as we complete our thoughts.   We welcome yours.

Exploring Place Objectives
placemaking - stakeholders

Identifying stakeholders is the first step in proceeding with placemaking design, tactics, and ideas.  These days, the stakeholders for placemaking are not much different for public or private sector organizations.   The local community, niche enthusiasts for specific place elements, the municipality, tenants (especially anchor tenants), existing businesses, and the property developer, are a short list of such stakeholders.

placemaking 22 - stages
Place Purpose

Every place has somewhat a different purpose, based upon the “trip purpose” of the visitor.   Some places are truly about the vaunted “gather and stare” qualities of gathering places.   Other places are intended for much different purpose.   Any place-making exploration best begins with a confirmation of the purpose of the space.

placemaking - programming
The Programming

The programming of the place is vital.  What is it that people will do while they are there?   What activities?   What choice?   Human beings really appreciate a place that has “more than than enough to do” – always something more.

placemaking - prototyping
Experiential Sampling and Rapid Prototyping

For all of the ideas mentioned here, as each are applied to particular circumstances it is important to prepare an experiential sampling of the space.  That is, to draw out the design of place into the three-dimensional and scripted description of the human activity (and options) that will actually occur in the space.   We use rapid-prototyping in SketchUp to assist stakeholders in understanding the scale and feelings of the space as it is designed.

placemaking 20 - sight lines
Rhythm and Movement

As well, human beings move through space and it is through movement that the essential means of experiencing place occurs.   This nebulous factor is one of those “you’ll know when you see it” things.   We think it may be among the most important topics to explore talking about placemaking design and tactics.

Special events designer and producer
Jubilation Flex

Some places are destined to become a place of camaraderie within their host community, during those peak moments of celebration, of jubilee.    In such a case, how can the gathering place “flex” for swarming crowds while remaining right-scaled to the more usual times of intimacy and personal comfort?

placemaking 03 - bread
Pleasant Aromas

As we all continually experience where we are, often our sense of place is more based on the spatial boundaries that exist, than the actual buildings themselves. just as movement, dance, life, harmony, gesture, and other dynamic life qualities interest us as human beings, the same interest can be derived if like qualities are designed into buildings and spatial relationships.

placemaking - naming
Names and Naming

In the process of project planning, place naming is a tactic for placemaking, among many other ingredients of “great places, great moments, great memories.” Naming places, and parts of places, should not be a casual thing – as much fun as it can be.  It is a strategic marketing matter for the gathering place and destination, as well as a compelling issue to users of the place.  All names should be placed in a place’s naming hierarchy, which then guides what role each name element will play in overall brand-building and management. This is true even for names of minor things – such elements work their way into the lasting mind memory (or place-mapping) of a place – even if subconscious.  There is a wonderful subtlety and indelible quality to place-memory, that can be important to naming and branding.  Your guests and customers come to know your brand by the way you reveal yourself at each touch-point you provide. Naming is one such touch-point.

placemaking 12 - discovery
Discovery and Chance Encounters

The possibility of chance encounters, new engagements, those moments of delight that can come in public places.   The residents, tenants, employees, and visitors to a place derive from above, alongside, and just beyond the place’s edges.    Mixed-use developments, main streets, urban villages, these project types can have large populations to pull from.    Planning so as encourage the disparate human interactions that may result from all of this nearby activity, can increase the odds of discovery during a particular visit.

placemaking 11 - food and beverage
Meeting Places

When we look around us, many of the most rich and enjoyable experiences are the meeting places – not only the cafes and city squares, but lake shores, beaches, forests – all the places we go to commune in one way or another. It is as much the meeting places, as with the restaurants, stores, and pubs, that form our richest communal experiences.

placemaking 10 - the stroll and linger

Some places beckon with a simple beauty and perhaps anticipation, with place objectives that are more about the romantic than anything else.   A space to spend time with a significant other, to stroll, to feel the sun on one’s face.

placemaking 18 - own the holidays
Own the Holidays

Gathering places are where we collect to enjoy that special camaraderie that comes with shared traditions, celebrations, and commemorative moments.   The “host places” in our community require nurturing to achieve that role, in the design, in the programming, and in the capability to gather informally and without planning.

placemaking 20 - youth sports acknowledgment
Interstitial Group Hosting

For some places, an open invitation to the host community is evidence by purposeful staging areas.   These staging areas allow interstitial semi-public events to happen but to do so in a way that allows an unimpeded use of the place by uninterested others.   An example is a ceremonial “stage” in a public green area that can provide a setting for recognition for local youth sports teams, public speakers, even formal (private company) product introductions.

placemaking 14 - art and artisans
Public Art

Over the past couple of decades, what placemaking means has grown to include a significant sensibility for public art, artists, and artisans.

Some Thoughts on Placemaking Design Tactics
Placemaking Consultants - Location-based entertainment technology used in placemaking
AR, VR, and XR

Placemaking cannot be nostalgic or rooted only in archetypes of the past.   The youth among us grew up with marvels as Pokémon GO and are accustomed to tech enhancements as part of gathering.   So count the new means and methods of augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed-reality, as among your tools in placemaking.  Those coming to your gathering places will expect these enhancements.   Next year, 2021, may be one of those years we remember for innovations hitting the streets … Facebook expects to launch their augmented-reality sunglasses next year in collaboration with fashion eye-wear maker EssilorLuxottica.

placemaking 20 - sight lines
Sight Lines

The eyes “dance” over sight lines, search for visual cues … browsing and strolling lasts as long as interest and comfort allows.   The iconic structure over there in the sight line, that holds the view and can compel a visitor to be pulled forward.

placemaking 05 - citywalk
Comfort and Climate

How many times have you been to a place that feels inviting, and as  you settle in a gust of wind blow your lunch and shopping bags into the next county?  Or similarly, how many times have you gotten to your destination and simply can’t find a convenient (and clean) restroom?   That “Hierarchy of Needs” (Maslow) we learned about in school, that comes to mind.

placemaking 23 - more show architecture
Spatial Relationships

As we all continually experience where we are, often our sense of place is more based on the spatial boundaries that exist, than the actual buildings themselves. just as movement, dance, life, harmony, gesture, and other dynamic life qualities interest us as human beings, the same interest can be derived if like qualities are designed into buildings and spatial relationships.

placemaking 10 - sculpture

Large public sculpture adds an additional layer to the place experience, including aspects of identity and place-memory.   Sometimes important sensibilities in arriving at a sense of place.    Over the years, sculptural elements have proven to sound promotional tools, as people commemorate their visit – even more in the age of selfies and potentially viral distribution.

placemaking 09 - building textures

Some space-defining materials, you can simply feel.   Steel buildings with modern edges have a different perceived “feel” than wood, stone, and fabric.   There is no one right approach, but the building materials that define the edges of a space can have a palpable feel to each visitor.

placemaking 24 - wild posting
Temporal Layering

Many of the places we find most captivating, have a capacity to accept temporary layering by community members.   Community bulletin boards and wild posting ares, are effective means to encourage the host community to take ownership of the public space.   This simple idea can be a fountainhead of avenues to explore in placemaking design, tactics, and ideas.

placemaking 17 - show architecture
Show Architecture

Some gathering places are part of integrated location-based entertainment complexes, such as at Universal Studios Hollywood and Downtown Disney.   Times Square in New York is part of a citywide entertainment grid that grew over time, and is another example.   In these kinds of retail-entertainment destinations there is a specific architecture suited to such locations, which can be described as “show architecture.”

The 15-Minute City concept is a multi-faceted placemaking tactic.
RMU’s – the Carts and Kiosk

Carts and kiosks can add to the “retail rhythm” of retail streets and walkways, when placed in locations where streets do not allow retail on both sides, or where shop dimensions and/or tenant size limits the number of storefronts in a particular zone.   Carts and kiosks are also a great way to bring in local entrepreneurs, adding a helpful indigenous feel to a place.    It is sometimes best for the facility to provide an attractive cart for the merchant to lease versus the merchant supplying its own merchandising platform.  Then again, along the “great streets” of the world some of the patina comes from the varied look of such things.

placemaking 16 - window displays
Windows and Window Displays

Display windows act in an important role in activating adjoining common areas and streets, providing interesting elements to attract the eyes of guests as they stroll.   Where practical, tenant store display windows along any common area, hallway, or street, should be unique and individual, with a demonstrated wit, in the style of the department store display windows of yesteryear.

placemaking - green
Landscaping, Nature, “Green”

We all appreciate mother nature, even in the sometimes contrived patterns introduced in public spaces.    From a health and wellness standpoint there is enough research to make us confident that green areas are a positive impact on public heath.

placemaking - storefronts
placemaking 17 - show architecture
Store Signage
placemaking - wayfinding

Wayfinding is simply an additional detail that contributes to a sense of place at a particular location.   It starts with clear messaging.  But since its one of many visitor touch-points the means of wayfinding is also of overall strategic marketing.

placemaking 06 - toulouse beach
Water, Waterfronts

What is it about water?  The sensory aspects of water in all its forms provides extra sensory magic to the placemaking. All senses can be brought into play, the varied sounds of water, the smells and humidity that water and mist provides. The wide range of visuals of water and kinetic appeal. Kind of a sub-plot within the overall scheme of the place.

Covid-19’s Lasting Impacts on Real Estate
Activity on the Edges

The activity of a public space is a wonderful thing.   Opportunities to gaze upon this activity from the level of above, even two or more levels about the plaza, can be captivating.  In the same way that watching the waves from the beach can be.   The “gather and stare” factor is critical to placemaking design, tactics, and ideas.

placemaking 19 - layers
Above the Plaza

The activity of a public space is a wonderful thing.   Opportunities to gaze upon this activity from the level of above, even two or more levels about the plaza, can be captivating.  In the same way that watching the waves from the beach can be.

placemaking 08 - media displays
Digital Media Displays

The various forms of digital media display are an additional layer to be introduced in the placemaking tactics of some gathering places.  These displays certainly animate a space but they provide more than such animation.  Digital media displays are a kind of “window to the world.”  At many locations, media displays carry live broadcasts of sports events, concerts, and political messaging.   Live broadcast brings interested audiences that seek to share a communal moment of camaraderie, whether a fan of a sports team, performing artists, or a political candidate.

placemaking 15 - chi
Ch’i and Feng Shui

In pursuing placemaking there are some methods derived from Feng Shui and the idea of free-flowing ch’i that are worthy of consideration.   To embrace these ideas is not to endorse the underlying beliefs.  Rather, in these traditional practices there is some time-honed wisdom that can tends to prove helpful.  Feng Shui (or Chinese geomancy) originates from ancient China.  It is a discipline that uses energy forces to harmonize individuals with their surrounding environment.   Closely related to Feng Shui is the concept of Ch’i or qi.   In traditional Chinese culture ch’i is thought to be a vital force forming part of any living entity.   Chi’s is the foundational principle in Chinese traditional medicine and martial arts.

About Placemaking Design and Tactics

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