A city beach, a food truck festival or a community garden are all ways to temporarily revitalise vacant sites. Place making is a crucial element for the marketing strategy of places and spaces. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with putting a dull or forgotten place back in the spotlight. But such interventions are increasingly short-lived and often used to speed up municipal procedures. Which is very far from what the urban activist Jane Jacobs envisaged in the ’60s. In 2020, the term placemaking seems to be rapidly eroding.
It is heading in the wrong direction on two fronts. Firstly, in the original concept, the interventions were defined and conceived to reflect the actual users, residents and the unique identity of the place. These days, the ideas seem to flow from hired marketing agencies, and the pop-ups tend to be fairly generic. Secondly, the bulk of interventions that are now grouped together under the placemaking umbrella are temporary. The initiatives invariably end once redevelopment begins in earnest. In other words, just as the residents are about to harvest the ingredients for their own tomato soup, their community garden must be cleared. Which contradicts the original placemaking concept that emphasized in lasting value added to a place.
Providing local initiatives with temporary space is, of course, well-intentioned. But isn’t it more fun and more sustainable to test out precisely those things that directly match local needs and ideas? To have the capacity to make a long-term contribution? Placemaking is more than a fun attraction: it is a meaningful way to boost the area’s development and future programming through experimentation and innovation.
This is why I’m coining the new term ‘placetesting’ as an antidote to placemaking inflation. My definition of placetesting is ‘the temporary testing out of initiatives, of entrepreneurs, of residents and local community organisations that, if successful, will become integrated into the site’s permanent programme’. This does, however, make considerable demands of municipalities, real estate owners, developers and ‘placemakers’. It calls for the courage to experiment, take responsibility, not be afraid of failing. But above all, to be prepared to facilitate successful initiatives in the future. That’s when the fun and excitement really begin. placetesting fosters new business models, equal partnerships and ends the one-dimensional projects. I am confident that placetesting can shape better futures. Who’s in?
Want to know more about placemaking and place testing? Read more about our approach here.