Placemaking: User Experience (UX) Design on an Urban Scale
Public spaces must be inclusively designed, equitably distributed, and open to everyone. This means planning, designing, and developing them to meet users’ needs and preferences. To achieve this, you must engage the people who use a particular space and establish their needs and aspirations, an approach called placemaking.
Placemaking aims to transform urban spaces into an experience. It adds humanity to an area, transforming it from a functional space to a place that fosters community and social connection. From town centers and streets to parks and sidewalks, placemaking enables us to shape our neighborhood, city, or region to maximize shared value.
What Is Placemaking?
Placemaking is compared to UX design, but instead of products and services, it focuses on collectively reinventing public spaces to contribute to the community’s health, happiness, and well-being. The goal behind the concept goes beyond promoting better urban design to ensuring people connect with the places they share. Placemaking capitalizes on the local communities’ assets, such as religion, language, traditions, and values, to create holistic quality places. Places where people feel they belong and like they have a stake in.
Placemaking emerged in 1960 when Jane Jacob and Willian Whyte proposed designing cities that curate to people instead of emphasizing automobile connectivity. A decade later, architects, planners, and landscapers started to develop parks, squares, and plazas that attracted people and their activities. In 1975, Fred Kent, an American urbanist and the founder of Project for Public Spaces (PPS), defined it as a multifaceted approach to the planning, designing, and management of public areas. Kent further simplifies its meaning with phrases like community-driven, dynamic, inclusive, adaptable, visionary, context-driven, transdisciplinary, transformative, collaborative, sociable, and function before form.
Placemaking and Streetscapes
Placemaking can transform a variety of spaces for different functions. One common form of placemaking is streetscape. Streetscape refers to an urban area’s roadway and sidewalk design and how it impacts its users (residents and visitors). It includes both a street’s natural and artificial elements and its experiential quality.
Streets are the lifeline of any town or city. They are a crucial city element that not only provide access to places but also signify the public life of a place. Streetscaping should be subjected to a rigorous approval process to ensure that the landscape designs people interact with while walking, driving, cycling, or running are functional and encourage connection, understanding, and a sense of community for the users.
Streetscaping is a blank canvas for placemaking, allowing you to design cohesive, human-centered streets. Streetscapes range from small to large designs and should take into consideration the following:
- Ease of accessibility and navigation for the users
- Separation for different functions, including vehicle and pedestrian lanes
- Include essential safety features such as proper signage
- Preserve the scenery so that users can quickly identify points of interest from the streets
- Have a distinct design that gives the place a sense of originality
Successful placemaking requires balancing stakeholder priorities, including urban planners, architects, businesses, community leaders, and residents. The community is considered the expert since they are well positioned to present valuable perspectives and insight about the areas’ culture, function, and any other meaningful aspect to include in the street design.
Fundamental Principles and Strategies of Placemaking
There are 11 principles that apply when transforming public spaces into community places. These include:
- The community should be the expert in informing placemaking decisions. The people who use the spaces regularly are best positioned to provide valuable insights into how the area functions.
- Design is an essential component of placemaking but is not the only factor. Every element used in a space should serve a purpose to make the whole more significant than the sum of its parts.
- Creating an excellent public space requires a collaborative effort. You will need partners to offer ideas, financial or political support, and help in the planning process.
- Avoid guesswork and instead learn through observation to identify missing elements or adjust existing ones to meet people’s preferences.
- Good placemaking requires a vision.
- Don’t expect to get everything right from the get-go. The best places result from minor, continuous improvements that are tested and refined over time. For instance, start by including physical elements of a street, like a bench or a footpath, and then later, you can add more features or subtract as needed.
- Triangulate to establish the relationship between separate elements within a space and how you can arrange them to achieve a desired effect. For example, a bench or coffee kiosk near a bus stop will illicit a behavior pattern. People will buy coffee to indulge as they wait or get comfortable on the bench.
- Expect to come across obstacles.
- The financial costs of placemaking are often not as significant as the benefits.
- There is no definite end to a placemaking process. People are constantly evolving, and thus, the need to continually improve places to adapt to new behaviors, trends, conditions, and preferences.
Tips for Placemakers and the Future of Placemaking
Placemaking is still a growing urban development concept, so there is no telling what it will evolve to or how much it can change in the years to come. What remains clear is that understanding how a sense of place can influence communities’ physical, social, emotional, and ecological health is essential for building great places.
Additionally, the success of placemaking relies on outstanding leadership and action on all levels. A single entity cannot have all the answers; you must allow room for experimentation and collaboration. People of all ages, abilities, and socio-economic backgrounds can form a collective vision to help re-imagine spaces and turn them into places.
MODSTREET is committed to helping businesses and communities reinvent their streetscape. We provide a range of high-quality, flexible outdoor parklets and other modular products to transform spaces into places for a variety of functions. Whatever your placemaking vision is, we can help you achieve it with our range of existing products, or you can request a custom order, which we support with designing and manufacturing.
Just like UX design focuses on the users, the community should be at the heart of placemaking. You should implement placemaking in your community engagement initiatives to customize approaches to existing issues, such as the need for more green spaces or areas to relax. To do so, you will need to pay close attention to the various ways in which a place’s physical, social, ecological, cultural, and spiritual qualities closely intertwine with users. This is because a great public place cannot be measured by the amenities it offers alone. It must also serve the community as a vital resource from which function always trumps.
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