Hi folks, Rue here 👋 In the past month or so, I’ve attended three fantastic, local events. I’ve eaten delicious cake at the aptly named CAKE: Places and Spaces event, heard all about Bottom Up Urbanism from Healthy Happy Places, and been inspired to action from Refreshing the Case for Culture North East.

Each of these events examined various different areas of culture, creativity, co-production and placemaking. One thing they all had in common? Every single one of them mentioned, in some capacity, the impact of creative placemaking and co-creation, on our individual and community wellbeing, and perceived quality of place.

What exactly is Placemaking?

If you aren’t familiar with the term ‘placemaking’ and you give it a google, you’ll read something similar to this:

‘Strengthening the connection between people and the places they share, placemaking refers to a collaborative process by which we can shape our public realm in order to maximise shared value.’ – What is Placemaking? – Project for Public Spaces

My personal interest in placemaking didn’t come from any traditional Urban Planning or Architecture background, but from my Graphic Design degree, running workshops in Bristol, to reimagine a city and inspire future thinkers, designers and planners to benefit the people and communities that live there. My final year project investigated tensions within shared spaces, privacy and ownership, all stemming from a desire to have a say in the places we live, work and play.

First image - Our city project t-shirts and information books in the colours yellow, purple, white and green. Second image - Our city project street pop-up with a small child and woman filling in Venn diagrams

First image - Our City Project street pop-up, woman talking to child with their backs to the camera. Second image - Lots of people of all ages surrounding the Out City Project pop-up, watching children get involved with drawing.

“85% of people polled stated that the quality of public space has a direct impact upon their lives and the way they feel.”

Seen & Heard, Demos, November 2007

I thought I was fairly familiar with the impact of place on communities. That placemaking can benefit local communities through creative thinking and maximising value. But during the Bottom Up Urbanism talk, Prof. Rhiannon Corcoran reminded me of the significant impact our perceived quality of the places we live has on our wellbeing. So if only 20% of a person’s health outcomes are attributable to accessing good quality health care, the importance of achieving better population health through meaningful co-creation and placemaking really hit home.

So what is creative placemaking?

This is where it gets exciting. “Creative placemaking is really just creative humans trying to help other humans live a better life.” Americans for the Arts

Creative placemaking is community engagement through the arts. To be successful it must be created with and by a community. There are no shortcuts here, and no dictating to people how to interact with their spaces. Creative placemaking provides a voice for residents in shaping their community, contributes to social cohesion, and connects local history with the present.

What are some examples of creative placemaking?

Image of a row of commercial shops looking run down and disused. Below a graphic of what the street could look like in ideal scenario with a range of shops and amenities.

Midsteeple Quarter

Midsteeple Quarter is a community benefit society breathing new life into Dunfries town centre by redeveloping empty High Street properties to create a new neighbourhood with a mix of uses built on principles of local prosperity and wellbeing. Residents took ownership of the empty buildings in their town centre, and went from campaign group to community property development organisation.

Find out more about Midsteeple Quarter here: https://vimeo.com/456874479


Image Ref: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-south-scotland-37925923

Side shot of people walking along a muddy path infant of trees.

Wild Museum

Wild Museum founder, John Coburn, spoke about a range of projects, including their 10 month project supporting socially isolated older residents in rural Gateshead. The project involved the residents collaborating with biologists, social historians and sound artists to create a sound archive of environmental and social sounds. The project focused on the transfer of ownership of place-based heritage from knowledge institutions to residents.

Find out more about Wild Museum here: wild-museum.com

Image ref: https://www.wild-museum.com/research

A large information billboard in the colours orange, turquoise, white and navy. Graphics show buildings, a rainbow, an umbrella, with a message encouraging people to pick up their litter

Sail x Sunderland Council

If some of the themes of this article sound familiar, it’s because we’ve long been advocates for co-creation in our own design practice. Sunderland Council and Cultural Spring commissioned Sail to develop community way-finding and environmental signage in Sunderland. Through public workshops, we uncovered rich stories and pride, co-creating a place-based campaign from within the heart of the community. The project provided space for people to reflect on sense of place, and what their community represents for them and the wider context of Sunderland. 150 people engaged, 9 permanent co-created signs installed and local action groups created.

Find out more about the project here: https://sailcreative.co.uk/project/building-communities-through-people-and-pride/