In the world of urban development and real estate, ESG has become synonymous with sustainability, which is only a part of the overall equation of value. Through the careful consideration of environmental, social, and governmental factors, investors can better appreciate how their projects affect various aspects of society.
And with most communities across the nation experiencing lockdowns over the last 16 months, the social impact of a person’s local surroundings has now been brought into sharp focus. The social impact of an urban space is, therefore, more important now than ever before.
One way to address the need for environments to be conducive to well-being is to focus on placemaking.
What is Placemaking?
Placemaking is an approach to the planning, design, and governance of public spaces that puts people’s wellbeing first by making public spaces the beating heart of a community.
The aim is to make genuinely great spaces that satisfy the ‘Social’ aspect of ESG. These are places that people want to work, live and play in, focusing on inclusivity, diversity, health, and happiness. The fundamental hallmarks of placemaking are:
- Function before form
- Collaboration with the local community
- Transformation of a public space
- Dynamic and adaptive use of a space
- Creative vision for places
By talking to existing or potential users of spaces, developers better understand the needs and potentiality of an urban space. Through this careful consideration of local needs and aspirations, a placemaking plan can then be implemented.
This involves developing a vision for the space that accommodates the needs of the people who use it and enabling further benefits. The community knows best when it comes to placemaking, and its voice should be represented. Placemaking, therefore, involves the practical planning and development of spaces that are currently underused, underdeveloped, or are not fostering a sense of community and wellbeing.
Social Value Through Placemaking
While placemaking involves the physical improvement and development of buildings, pavements, parks, and public areas, it’s more than just architecture, design, and construction. Placemaking maximizes the social value of a space by developing connections between it and the people who use it, effectively utilizing an urban space within its greater context.
While a difficult concept to truly pin down, social value can be understood as whatever benefits people who use the public space. According to Savills, “[social value] is created when the built environment supports environmental, economic, and social wellbeing to improve quality of life”. This means a focus on pedestrian spaces specifically planned with that area and that particular community’s interests in mind.
Developing a metric to measure social value is difficult and ultimately relies on long-term observations and engagement with spaces. It’s therefore vital for early communication with local communities before planning and a thorough understanding of how a space can best be utilized.
This avoids the pitfall of inappropriate spaces and facilities such as an underused park or a housing project priced inappropriately for the surrounding area. Designing with the community for the community is key.
Placemaking is simply the development of great spaces that play a central role in an area.
Elements of Placemaking
Creating social value through placemaking involves the implementation of 4 elements:
This asks what a place will be used for. Whether it is property, retail, rentals, or social structures, with placemaking, the focus is always on how it benefits the most amount of people. Even in projects such as multi-family housing, where residents of a property may primarily use a space, there is a consideration of how the space is best integrated into the surrounding area and connects it to the most amount of people. A great use of a space will see people of all ages and genders using the destination, with married, single, retired, and professionals all enjoying the area, not necessarily at the same time. If placemaking is used for housing, the utilization aspect also raises the question of property values, or rent levels, asking those who are planning great places to consider a sustainable approach.
Lifestyle and Image
The perception of a space is important too, with aesthetic and charming places improving users’ sense of well-being. Making the space comfortable, walkable, green, sanitary, safe, and attractive has more of a beneficial social impact. This can be achieved through things such as the use of benches, level surfaces, plants, and trees, as well as the addition of ‘flourishes’ that make a place feel special. For example, the implementation of historical aspects of an area. This can be seen with old dock buildings in waterfront projects, transforming them into shops or housing. These places are made to feel part of a local area rather than an intrusion.
The accessibility of a place should be considered too. Ideally, spaces should be visible and open, fostering a sense of integration with transport links nearby. In the case of public spaces, pavements from surrounding areas should lead to it, preferably with nearby parking. It’s also important to consider the space caters to those with additional needs; railings, ramps, and areas for quietude should be included.
Placemaking can foster social value by developing a better sense of community through the shared use of a space. Spaces that make it easy to interact with other people, meet up with friends and family, and give opportunities to nurture relationships tend to be more sustainable in terms of usage. A great urban space is somewhere people will know by name and feel comfortable being in. It is somewhere that people will feel a personal attachment to, and this builds stronger ties to the local community, having a massive social impact.
Critically, placemaking is not something that just happens; it requires attentive consideration of how a space can best serve local people and their well-being. By ensuring the social aspect of ESG is considered, public and private entities can collaborate to unlock the value of the place for the benefit of existing and incoming residents, and for local businesses.