Clever placemaking examples in the real world

June 26, 2024

Good placemaking builds meaningful connections between people and places - let’s take a look at some clever real-world placemaking examples.

Successful placemaking improves community health by enriching people’s experience of a place (oftentimes in a way that reflects the community itself), making it feel ‘alive’ in ways that magnetise people and create a sense of attachment to it.

How that manifests in the real world, however, can sometimes feel like a vague and abstract urban planning principle. So, here are some clever placemaking examples in action that show this powerful and innately human concept at work.

Street art

Creating street-level visual appeal is an immediate and powerful way to create a sense of place in a location, which is why it’s unsurprising that public art is such a popular placemaking method.

Chief among these are murals, which are adaptable to any size or space and can unlock a range of immediate potential placemaking benefits. They can be used to reflect a community’s history or values, while their ability to transform a place’s aesthetic – by making it more distinctive, vibrant and inviting to pedestrians – make them particularly effective as part of urban regeneration projects.

Underpass art like this in Brisbane turns a potential eyesore into an enjoyable and welcoming sight.

Effective examples of placemaking in Australia aren't difficult to find, however the most memorable example of this might be Melbourne’s laneways, which have become an iconic part of the urban landscape and a veritable tourist attraction that benefits local businesses and visitors alike. With a demonstrated capacity to generate footfall and ameliorate unfavourable urban conditions, murals have become a placemaking staple (both intentional and organic) across Australia and the world.

Melbourne's laneway art scene is a cultural touchstone that entices pedestrians to explore the city.
Street art is adaptable and eye-catching, making it perfect for urban renewal projects like Brisbane's Fish Lane.
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A core tenet of the placemaking ‘movement’ is to invite people to have a healthier balance of public and private life in a world that is increasingly bending towards privacy through our homes, cars, shopping habits and other conveniences of daily life. Gathering places, however, are an enduring part of our social fabric that naturally counteract this inertia by creating real opportunities for social interaction.

In urban areas where space is limited, replacing car parking spaces with open plan seating is a creative and logical way to encourage people to gather in a place that would otherwise be inviting private vehicle use. Parklets, as they’re known, which range from guerilla-style community takeovers to council-implemented permanent or semi-permanent structures – typically constructed as a platform or deck that’s flush with the curb – can give a street a sense of vitality.

A patio park/parklet in the centre of Ipswich, Queensland, that serves as a gathering place and overflow cafe seating during busy periods.

By creating activity on the street, parklets can have a traffic calming effect and become a daily stopping point for locals, which can foster a sense of safety and security in car-dominated areas. Local businesses can leverage parklets as overflow seating, too, while also reaping economic benefits from any increase in pedestrian activity they naturally induce.

Community gardens

Hyper-local placemaking can have a profound impact on a specific neighbourhood or group of people, and community gardens are a pithy example of this kind of focused placemaking.

To be successful, community gardens require ongoing community engagement and collaboration, and the results of this process are multi-faceted. For participants, community gardens impart a feeling of responsibility, stewardship and pride in a shared ‘third place’. Plus, both participants and visitors can reap the benefits of a thriving green space; this includes the ability to harvest fresh herbs, fruits or vegetables growing in the garden, as well as create social interactions and a tangible connection between people and place. Added benefits can include community education on growing your own food, sustainable living, attracting wildlife and more.

Community gardens like this one in Melbourne serve to bring a neighbourhood together and create a sense of pride among participants (Image credit: D Olwen Dee).

While they usually only function on a small scale, community gardens are an ideal example of how placemaking is not a ‘set and forget’ process, but an ongoing one that benefits from on-the-ground community engagement.

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Repurposed commercial spaces

Placemaking and urban renewal/regeneration often go hand-in-hand to help ‘activate’ a location and unlock its potential, which in turn can give the surrounding area a tangible lift in visibility and visitation.

‘Dormant’ places, meanwhile, can negatively impact surrounding areas and diminish their sense of place. This double-edged sword is keenly felt in commercial areas, since vacant properties have the potential to detract from nearby businesses by making them appear less attractive to passers-by. So, while placemaking often has indirect economic development and targeted benefits for local businesses (as a by-product of more pedestrian activity and boosted social capital), they’re often not the express focus of placemaking projects.

A national social enterprise called Renew Australia, however, came up with a novel concept that sought to activate vacant shops, offices, commercial and public buildings by making them available to incubate artists, creative projects and community initiatives on a short-term basis. Initially started in Newcastle, the Renew project has successfully run in towns and cities across Australia, revitalising main streets and communities at large.

The Renew Australia social enterprise seeks to revitalise streets by incubating creative businesses in vacant shops and buildings on a rolling 30-day licence.

The program benefits local businesses and prospective ones by drawing foot traffic and eyes on the street, while residents can enjoy a thriving and diverse commercial precinct. While it’s a niche example that requires substantial stakeholder collaboration, the Renew Australia program neatly showcases how local businesses strengthen the community socially as well as economically.

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