On Wednesday 11 October, a crew of thirty curious faces strolled into Secret Village, to attend ‘Exclusively Inclusive: the battle for a future of our own making’, a workshop created by Green City Buzz for Placemaking Week 2017.

 

Wait, stop. What the frack is placemaking? Our friends at Wikipedia tell us that:

Placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. Placemaking capitalises on a local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people’s health, happiness, and well being.

 

Green City Buzz (GCB) cares about our cities, how they grow & develop & who wins & loses along the way. We knew we were always going to be in good company among this group of placemaking influencers from around the globe.

The workshop participants and four members of the GCB team piled into the upper floor at the beautiful Lion Noir in the heart of the Village. We started with the expected; who are we, what do we do & how does this relate to placemaking? Then the real fun began.

You see, it’s hard to ‘show’ people a place without actually showing them the place! The moment we exited the building and began a walking tour of Secret Village, our first showcase location, the questions came flooding in. The moment the environment became real, the participants began to appreciate the scope and complexity of what we have done and what we’re working with. Acting as the connective tissue between building & business owners, bar & restaurant staff, the business association, suppliers, residents, visitors, the municipality & partner organisations to run 25+ urban improvement & sustainability projects over 24 months is no small feat. A sense of pride stirred in me as the questions & reactions from the group began to reflect genuine respect, admiration & curiosity.

We touched on just a few of our sustainable consumption, energy & water reduction, social cohesion, and logistics & mobility projects before we needed to head back inside for an innovation challenge.

After a decade of facilitating various workshops, I’ve learned that things don’t always go to plan and the number one priority is to ensure value is delivered for the group, regardless of how that happens. It turns out many of the placemaking people and organisations from across the globe, big and small, face similar challenges. How do you connect everyone harmoniously and efficiently? How do you get people to care? How can you ensure your projects are self sustaining and truly bottom-up? In the early days, how do you ensure your projects are adequately funded, without spending a disproportionate amount of time chasing grants, subsidies and bags of cash?

We were supposed to share our placemaking challenges with the group and work together on possible solutions. But the more challenges I shared, the more questions there were. I decided to cash in on this genuine interest and run with it. We spent the remainder of the workshop in fun, useful and sometimes heated discussion about placemaking challenges. I was able to dig up a few gems in there that we can use to better our approach in the future & the participants assured us they were able to do the same. All in all, a success!

On their way out of the building a few participants stopped to thank us and let us know that this was their favourite session of the whole program! That was the highlight of our week!

What did we learn? Here were the key takeaways:

 

  1. Some of the perceived ‘challenges’ of placemaking don’t need to be ‘fixed’, they are normal and simply need to be worked with or accepted. For example, “how do you get people to care?”. Many people in the workshop believed that if you have to try too hard to get your stakeholders to care about a place, it might not be the most efficient & effective place to start. It may be better to find yourself a project with stakeholders that are more open & receptive & show others how conscious placemaking is done! Once the naysayers see the benefits, it’s far easier to win their hearts & minds.
  2. Many not-for-profits, NGOs & foundations suck at demonstrating their worth & value. This makes funding a challenge. This is something the placemaking world needs to get better at. We would do well to learn more from each other & pool our resources.
  3. This was a controversial one! Some participants believe that many of the public structures in place to fund & support not-for-profits, NGOs & foundations suck at recognising the value created by placemaking initiatives. Others argued that government organisations simply live in a different world & because of this, they unintentionally tend to slow down & bureaucratise the very organisations they hope to help.
  4. Inclusive placemaking is often challenging & always rewarding! This one was unanimous!
Thank you to Pakhuis de Zwijger and Placemaking Week for hosting and organising this fantastic and much needed event. We can’t wait for next year!