Local Government Magazine

What’s council’s role in placemaking?

Boffa Miskell’s Stuart Houghton challenges councils to get placemaking to a point where it takes care of itself.

When it comes to cities, placemaking as a term and activity has quickly become ubiquitous. So it is rapidly losing its real meaning or sense of purpose, in the way that all fashionable movements and trends inevitably do. This has already happened with terms such as urban design and sustainability.
There is no doubt that placemaking has played a significant role in the re-invention of urban Auckland over the past five years or so.
These efforts have been led in particular by the former Sea + City then Waterfront Auckland at Wynyard Quarter. It’s happened with Cooper and Co down at Britomart, and the Heart of the City’s ‘The Show Never Stops’.
There are many other campaigns, and portfolios of events and happenings.
These efforts have been hugely instrumental in forging new connections between all Aucklanders, and their central city and waterfront.
They highlight the transformational change and new feel-good dynamic that is occurring in public life and urban renewal more generally in this fast-changing city.
Aucklanders are learning to love their central city. They’re learning to want to be there, even when they may have no particular reason to.
But where does all this lead?
The consensus view seems to be that if a space isn’t activated 24/7, it cannot be successful. Increasingly, there’s a view that if you don’t have a comprehensive placemaking programme in place, how can you be sure that activation will occur?
I think there needs to a re-focusing of placemaking effort. We need to recognise that placemaking as an organised programme of activity is what you do to kickstart new or struggling places or re-purpose a place.
The real challenge is getting more places to a point where the placemaking takes care of itself. That is where councils, cities, communities and corporate landowners should be focused.

Stuart Houghton is principal, urban designer, at environmental planning and design consultancy Boffa Miskell.

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