Instead of building just concrete structures, the building or revitalisation of public spaces in the vicinity will often make more money for the developer as there is a strong demand for such spaces, claims a public space advocate.
Words by Isabelle Pinto
The city of Adelaide on the South Australia Coast used to be a 9-to-5 town, a city where restaurants serving suburban commuters closed right after lunch. However, nowadays, the city has become more vibrant, both day and night, earning it a place in top destinations lists by “The New York Times” and “Lonely Planet”. Many factors played a role in the revitalisation of Adelaide but to a huge degree, it was simply the result of small-scale, inexpensive efforts to rethink its public spaces. It started off with simple interventions such as closing a street to cars for a night, and giving way to food vendors and musicians, hence, attracting more people to the streets instead of automobiles. This then evolved into a sustained effort by the Adelaide City Council to adopt “placemaking”.
A program called “Splash Adelaide” was implemented whereby street parties, orchestral performances and outdoor film screenings were organised on the streets in order to trial placemaking strategies. These experimental efforts enabled the city council to truly engage with the people to transform Adelaide
According to Project for Public Spaces (PPS), a non-profit organisation known for public space revitalisation initiatives, placemaking is basically a theory and approach for improving a neighbourhood, city or region. It inspires people to rethink and reinvent public spaces as the heart of every community. However, unlike many countries which use a top-down approach in designing and planning, placemaking uses a bottom-up approach whereby community engagement is essential. “We’re all about community engagement,” says Cynthia Nikitin, Senior Vice President of PPS. “You basically crowdsource the information, the ideas and solutions with the community-the business owners and the residents- to envision the place and then, you design it.”
She adds: “We build on the assets. Don’t wipe anything out. Build on what’s there and take it to the 21st century.” Besides that, instead of just paying attention to the physical aspect of urban design such as the improvement of amenities and connectivity, placemaking also enhances the cultural and social aspects which define a place, for instance, through cultural performances, music, art and so on. This inevitably makes public spaces more attractive to people.
Benefits for real estate
Besides attracting people, revitalised public spaces are also known to attract investments in property. “Build the amenity, build the park, build the great attractor. It will increase your property value, it will lease out in no time,” stresses Nikitin. “If you just want to build a building and get your tax subsidies, tax waivers, and zoning variances because you can build more and higher, you’re going to make money but you’re not going to leave a legacy. But if you build the public space first, and then you build your buildings, you are definitely going to gain more.”
“For instance, if you build an amazing park that is a regional destination and two towers, you’ll make more money than you can have ever imagined, and you’ll be building a legacy. This is because if there’s a park, I’ll bet there’s a waiting list for people who want to live there. Moreover, if the place is walkable, compact and accessible, that developer will sell out even before he puts a shovel in the ground because that is what people want. There is a demand for it and the market is usually not delivering it.”
Besides positive impacts on property, placemaking is also known to improve the economy of a place due to the influx of more people which would create more businesses and activity. For instance, in quite a number of Asian cities where placemaking has started to gain its momentum, revitalisation of public spaces is usually focused on its rich cultural heritage. Areas with historical buildings are preserved and enhanced to bring more life to it. This, in turn, attracts more visitors, thus promoting tourism and spurring the economy of the region.
Therefore, with its myriad of advantages in revitalising urban spaces, placemaking has become more and more popular in many parts of the world, including Asia.