Can placemaking define the identity of a place?20 January 2016
Recently I was fortunate enough to see first hand what Grosvenor has been doing to improve Mayfair. As well as major refurbishments to some of their Georgian properties and new premium retail in Duke Street, they have introduced a number of community-based initiatives, such as a film festival, ‘Fitness in the Gardens’, bee-keeping, ‘Summer in the Square’ and pop-up green spaces. There is also an Anthony Gormley sculpture as a part of the new Beaumont Hotel.
This is being replicated across London. Land Securities are redefining Victoria, Argent are transforming Kings Cross, Derwent are revitalising Fitzrovia and Howard de Walden have evolved Marylebone.
They do it to improve the environment in which we live, work and relax.
You’ve heard of the broken window theory? Well, this is the complete opposite. Placemaking creates an upward spiral of wealth. Creating an environment to which residents and visitors flock encourages retailers to come, amenities to follow, then businesses to settle.
These days, businesses have to think carefully about where they locate. Not least because the new generation of employees are more demanding of wellbeing credentials than they once were. This means that not only is it advantageous if the building has facilities that enhance staff lives, but that the building is in a place that also enhances them. To have good quality local shops, bars, restaurants, cinema and fitness facilities brings extra value to businesses trying to attract the best talent.
Placemaking isn’t only applied to an area though. It is as important for a business park, a shopping centre or even a development. Where there is public realm, there are opportunities to use the space in ways that can be enjoyed by its users. A powerful expression of placemaking is art in the public realm, particularly sculpture. This is used to reflect the cultural stature of a place. Public art helps to create a distinct identity, therefore it is incredibly important to get it right.
The secret to creating an authentic identity is in understanding the history or geography of a site – this is where the gold is mined. As Will Bax, Director of Placemaking at Grosvenor explains, “It is about understanding what makes each place tick, why they are unique and how their stories and rhythms have come to be what they are. Our approach requires recognising that, but it also requires understanding what the people who use those places want and need.”
Placemaking needs careful handling, as the way a place is perceived is key to the audiences it attracts. Essentially, it helps to define an area, perhaps to put it on the map or to redefine an existing impression. In this sense, it is a central pillar in the identity of an area.
Nowadays the world is so brand-literate; just about everything is a brand. This is true of placemaking. Defining the brand and telling its story should always be at the centre of placemaking activity. It provides the glue that binds everything together. It helps deliver a clear and consistent message to the audience, whether through its development strategy, public realm or community initiatives.
When done well, it breathes life into a place.
I look forward to my next guided tour of a transformed place… wherever that might be.
With thanks to Will Bax, Director of Placemaking at Grosvenor for his contribution.Read more...