The day is cloudy, but so are your thoughts. You are standing in awe, staring at your feet, settling on the stone pavement arranged playfully as to laugh at your disbelief. You shake your head to let go of what is holding you back. But no matter how hard you try, you are haunted by the constant reminder of feeling alienated in the setting you reside in. What is it that you are looking for?

Places we go, connections we make, memories we hold, and times that we cherish all link us up to one thing — belonging. Where are you coming from? What made you ‘You?’ What is your story? The only question that tells us where we belong.

Public space as a mediator

As times progressed, architectural ideas have evolved from basic needs, supremacy, aesthetics, and functionality. It has played a vital role in adding value to our beliefs, identity, and needs. However, whenever we think of architecture and its associated role, we think of four walls and a ceiling. But there is more to the story. There is more to the core of our beginning and belonging that speaks of its impact on our lives.

It is the community formed by an ecology of people coming together for the making of public space. As quoted, ‘The public realm is the connective tissue of our everyday world.’ (Kunstler, 1996) Public spaces weave our lives together through socio-economic, political, historical, emotional, regional, physical, mental, environmental, and numerous other factors. Public space is a congregation of multiple activities taking place in the interest of a diverse community. Once we sensitively align the pattern of those occurrences, a place of value, matter, and meaning is created.

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Features in Creative Placemaking_©pps.org

Creative Placemaking – a step forward

Access & linkages, uses & activities, sociability, and comfort & image are the foundation for placemaking. As architects, we are familiar with the concept and these principles of placemaking. As users, we know the significance of those principles that navigate the process behind placemaking. Yet, a human mind is limitless and his origin of value, for which reason a deeper level of placemaking becomes worthy of our attention. Creative Placemaking has become a cohesive force bringing together multidisciplinary teams to work on a common purpose that gives voice and value to the ecology of mindful beings. It is a purpose that tells us stories of those that became the reason for this design process. It is a purpose that invites and unites, excites and enlights, and a purpose that breaks through the segregation of hundreds for a healthier integration.

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Samir Kassir Garden, Beirut, Lebanon_©Geraldine Bruneel
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Separation of the deck from the root system in Samir Kassir Garden _©Geraldine Bruneel

A highlighted example is of the AKAA 2005-2007 cycle award winner, Samir Kassir Garden in Beirut, Lebanon. The project states that the scale of the project does not matter as long as it is sensitively designed. The square sits in the middle of the central business district. However, the enhancement of pedestrian value, play of senses, sustainability and durability of materials, and conservation of the urban fabric has topped all aspects. It is true that ‘What begins as an undifferentiated space becomes a place as we get to know it better and endow it with value.’ (Tuan 1977:6)

Creative Placemaking Creating Impact in Our Lives

All facts and figures from different states and countries speak of striking impacts of creative placemaking in our lives. Where it invites to reform society, creative placemaking encourages communities to flourish psychologically, physically, socially, and economically. Creative placemaking has been about how arts contribute to the security, accessibility, wayfinding, engagement, facilitation, and visual language of public spaces. It helps as a mediator and narrator to build a ‘power of 10+.’ It allows locals to communicate their stories through their personalization of neighborhoods, streets, and alleys. It humanizes cities while strengthening communities.

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The Power of 10+_©pps.org

According to The Michigan Municipal League, the population of Michigan dropped between the 2000 and 2010 census. It was, then, noted that the population grew by 77-percent in 2013 in downtowns, where mixed-use and live-work environments prevailed. According to the report of Soul of the Community, the attitude of the people towards the area they live in affected the GDP of the area. Similarly, improving walkability and streetscapes increased the commercial value by 40%. Hence, we see the economic impact of creative placemaking affecting the working sector, the government, and business officials.

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Office space adjacent to the Bryant Park in New York_©CreativeCommons

Similarly, if people of a community get an opportunity to perform, eat, dance, live, shop, and work together, their physical and mental health flourishes. Eventually, this leads to the positive growth of that community for a better story for the future.

…. So, have you read this far to hear the story?

Once upon a time, there lived a… Oh, wait. 

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The Superkilen Park, Norrebro, Denmark_©IwanBaan

It is a story of 60 different origins, languages, cultures, ethnicities, values, and traditions. It is a story of a district named Norrebro in Copenhagen, Denmark, which is home to refugees and locals. Divided by race, corrupted with crime, instilled with fear, the neighborhood of Superkilen was living its darkest days. Upon rescue, well-reputed firms put their minds together in a collective effort with the community to design a safe space. The place that was once too unsafe is now a haven for its people. The Superkilen Park project successfully brought together 110 objects from 60 nations. All of these objects played their part as an associated memory of a home country. When the space became a place of value, identity, and belonging, people began connecting and celebrating.

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People of Norrebro_©IwanBaan
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People of Norrebro_©IwanBaan

A few objects were swing-benches connected to Baghdad, Octopus sculpture from Japan, Star-shaped fountain from Morocco, Boxing ring from Thailand, dentist sign from Qatar, and Chinese, Algerian and Liberian trees, and a hundred more.

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Storytelling elements in Superkilen Park_©IwanBaan
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Diversity, Unity, and Lifestyle in the red square_©IwanBaan

Divided into three zones as the red square, the green park, and the black market zone, the park provides 45% of softscape and 65% of asphalt, rubber, concrete, and stone. The project won the Aga Khan Award for Architecture 2014-2016 cycle for its sensitively aware design that speaks of 60 stories unique to each. This story has further inspired the JTP project of a 25-year regeneration scheme for Southall and many others around the globe.

We hope it inspired you too…!

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JTP’s 25-years regeneration scheme in Southall_©JTP
JTP’s 25-years regeneration scheme in Southall_©JTP

References:

  • Bibeva, I., 2012. Public space and its role for segregation, identity, and everyday life. A case study of Östbergahöjden and its square.. [ebook] Stockholm: UPPSATSER FRÅN KULTURGEOGRAFISKA INSTITUTIONEN, p.9. Available at: <https://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:539699/FULLTEXT01.pdf> [Accessed 27 November 2021].
  • Crawford, S., 2019. Creative Placemaking: Storytelling About People and Culture. [online] RDg Planning Design. Available at: <https://rdgusa.com/sites/discovery/2019/02/13/creative-placemaking-storytelling-about-people-and-culture/> [Accessed 27 November 2021].
  • Craft, S., 2014. The Economic Impact of PLACEMAKING. [ebook] Michigan: The Michigan Municipal League, pp.2-4. Available at: <http://placemaking.mml.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/mml-economic-impact-of-placemaking-june2014.pdf> [Accessed 27 November 2021].
  • Howell, A., 2018. Placemaking: Chapters make the best saga. [online] Ribaj.com. Available at: <https://www.ribaj.com/products/narrative-in-placemaking-rising-stars-2018-anna-howell> [Accessed 27 November 2021].
  • Frearson, A., 2012. Superkilen park by BIG, Topotek1 and Superflex. [online] Dezeen. Available at: <https://www.dezeen.com/2012/10/24/superkilen-park-by-big-topotek1-and-superflex/> [Accessed 27 November 2021].
  • Aga Khan Development Network. 2021. [online] Available at: <https://www.akdn.org/architecture/project/superkilen> [Accessed 27 November 2021].
  • Iwan Baan. 2012. Superkilen Park, Copenhagen – BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group). [online] Available at: <https://iwan.com/portfolio/superkilen-park-copenhagen-big/> [Accessed 27 November 2021].
  • Pps.org. 2021. The Power of 10+. [online] Available at: <https://www.pps.org/article/the-power-of-10?utm-content=buffer45ffb&amp;ref=upflow.co> [Accessed 27 November 2021].
  • Aga Khan Development Network. n.d. [online] Available at: <https://www.akdn.org/architecture/project/samir-kassir-square> [Accessed 27 November 2021].
  • 2017. [image] Available at: <http://www.placemakers.com/2017/11/16/places-that-pay-benefits-of-placemaking-v2/> [Accessed 27 November 2021].
Author

With an ambitious spirit to explore the world, Neha has embarked upon building her professional journey beginning from UAE, to Egypt, to what future holds next; to uncover the “extraordinary” in the places we see as ordinary keeping one eye ahead of the time and deeper into how architecture influences socio-culture, norms and behavior.

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