2013: Placemaking

(Judges Bay)

Once again the question of what the theme of x-section will be arises. X-section is a magazine unique in its ability to use a range of media, from a variety of submitters, to explore a theme pertinent to contemporary Landscape Architecture.

Recently two of us were attending at a half-day seminar by David Engwicht, “New Tools for Local Government”. There was a certain irony in the fact that the organizers believed we were from a large hotel management company - but that can be explained at the end. As the talk began Engwicht declared ‘‘Placemaking! Every other person today claims to be an expert on Placemaking…’’ The audience of mostly local body officials sighed in agreement. We pricked up our ears -what did they mean by Placemaking, and why did it seem to be the new buzzword?

Project for Public Space describes Placemaking as ‘‘a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. Put simply, it involves looking at, listening to, and asking questions of the people who live, work and play in a particular space, to discover their needs and aspirations.’’ Engwicht discusses the reasons why your living room is more welcoming than that of a show home. The Metropolitan Planning Council of Chicago sees this as having ‘‘the potential to be one of the most transformative ideas of this century’’. But is this something that can this be successfully measured or reproduced?

Considering Placemaking as the core objective has the potential to completely turn around the way we view our design opportunities or constraints, as designers, planners, or even local government officials. As Engwicht says, is the problem speeding cars? Or is it that a group of total strangers have colonised the space we considered to be a core part of our home territory? Is it really about wanting our sense of place back?

If Meurk and Hall (2000) can create a series of parameters to predict the ecological performance of an area of indigenous forest then conversely can we measure or predict the parameters that contribute to contemporary Placemaking? We know why we feel comfortable in our own home. But why did one visit to see the altered Judges Bay, a redeveloped inner harbour bay, close to the city and sandwiched between a posh suburb and a railway line, lead to a whole summer of return trips back there with family and friends?

The question expands even further when considered in the context of New Zealand, especially given the bi-cultural nature of our country. Most New Zealanders feel a deep connection to the land regardless of their background. However with the Maori word whenua meaning both land and placenta, it alone denotes a significance of place, deeply woven into culture. Consider also the phrase ‘‘mana whenua’’ - ‘‘territory rights’’ or "power from the land" and it becomes apparent that for many New Zealanders land is integrally connected to our sense of place. Are there specific differences or considerations to placemaking in NZ compared to other countries?

How do Landscape Architects in NZ respond to this challenge, especially as we face one of the largest contemporary rebuilds undertaken in the world with post quake Christchurch? Just as Engwicht states that children use their physical environment as more than just physical elements, but also the repository of their memories and affections; the research of Ken Taylor has explored the notion that culture and memories play an integral part in our enjoyment of our landscape. Can theories and principles of Placemaking contribute to rebuilding a Christchurch that the residents will recognise, enjoy and identify with? Meanwhile The Auckland Plan estimates that around 400,000 additional dwellings will be required by 2040. How can the principles of Placemaking help Auckland achieve this objective and yet still be ‘‘the Worlds most livable city’’?

The irony was that the ideas of placemaking presented by Engwicht in the seminar that day would be equally applicable to the management of hotels -every one values the feeling of a home away from home, and it would be a very successful property indeed that could consistently supply that. But it was as landscape architecture students we left that meeting totally enthralled, about not only making clever designs, but also making actual places.

The third issue of x-section aspires to continue the established tradition of combining the thoughts of students, academics and practicing Landscape Architects in articles, peer reviewed research papers, photo essays and interviews while critically examining a subject pertinent to the industry. Given the complexity and possible enormity of the subject of contemporary placemaking, it’s possible no other format or publication has the potential to explore it as fully: research it, debate it, illustrate it.
Placemaking: what is it really? How do we create a contemporary sense of place?

reference: C.D. Meurk, G.M.J. Hall. Biogeography and ecology of urban landscapes

G.H. Stewart, M.E. Ignatieva (Eds.), Urban biodiversity and ecology as a basis for holistic planning and design, Wickliffe Press Ltd (2000), pp. 34–45 Proceedings of a workshop held at Lincoln University 28/29 October 2000.

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