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Activating places: placemaking for the future


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It’s not easy creating places with purpose, and making sure they are used by the community can be even trickier. Temporary place activations can help us foresee potential risks, as well as encourage the public to engage with the space.

How do we build a sense of place? How do we ensure people engage with that space so that it flourishes with activity?

A landscape architect might spend years in a studio designing the “perfect” park, only to build it and find it empty. Without a deep understanding of the site’s spatial and social contexts, it can be hard to create places that “work”. Placemaking can held do just that. It is an urban design approach that invests trust in the local community, and in turn builds places the community trusts.

A vital component of placemaking is creating temporary place activations to ensure all stakeholders – especially the local community – feel connected to the place. Place activations also allow to test the use of places, de-risking key planning decisions.

They fall under the umbrella of tactical urbanism, a discipline focused on implementing short-term, low-cost, and citizen-led changes to urban spaces. Tactical urbanism and place activations can take many forms, from pop-up gardens to local markets to greening projects.

Place activations prototype and test place changes, gathering valuable feedback from communities on whether what we, as designers, think would work, actually does. Developing community sentiments of love and belonging to a place early on in a project ensures places will flourish long after project implementation. Place activations can also de-risk key planning decisions, which is vital considering the major financial and time investments that go into planning places.


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We believe urban design should be more human-centred and inclusive to enhance social cohesion, give people a strong sense of belonging to place, and de-risk important decisions.

Temporary activations can provide an opportunity to directly engage with communities and gather feedback on questions like, “Would this be something you would like in your neighbourhood?”, “How would you do it differently?” and “How could you help us take care of your neighbourhood?”. Creating temporary experimental place projects can help us collect data on who is there, what their current needs are, and what they hope the space will become.