So writes Jim Russell in a recent post over at Burgh Diaspora, in arguing that cities are wasting their money on Placemaking when they should be focusing more directly on talent development. In his view, widely held these days, Placemaking is about plunking down “cool urban amenities” and increasing token diversity to make a city seem edgy or superficially interesting. It’s a simple cut-and-paste process of taking some signifier of young, contemporary, urban hipness (a bike lane, public art, a funkily decorated coffee shop) and inserting it into a neighborhood in the hopes of re-framing that neighborhood as the Next Big Thing.
That’s not what Placemaking is. Or at least that’s not how many of us who use the word mean it. For every person who thinks that you can ‘placemake’ unilaterally by dropping in cool amenities, there is another who believes that Placemaking is as much about the discussion that participants have with each other as it is about whether a space contains public art or picnic tables when all is said and done. The physical attributes of the space in question are important, but they are the means, not the end. If you’re not building social capital in the community where you’re working, you’re not Placemaking; you’re just reorganizing the furniture. - Brendan Crain