Understanding Placemaking: Nine Principles to Live By

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Pictured, Xfinity Live! in Pittsburgh. According to Luanne Carelton, inviting social spaces that make people feel invited can help create social interaction. (Photo courtesy of  Lauren Davis, Brad Feinknopf Photography) Pictured, Xfinity Live! in Pittsburgh. According to Luanne Carelton, inviting social spaces that make people feel invited can help create social interaction. (Photo courtesy of Lauren Davis, Brad Feinknopf Photography)

Jan Gehl states: “First life, then spaces, then buildings – the other way around never works.”

Placemaking is about creating a space for human experiences.

In the simplest form Placemaking is about transforming and activating a space into a Place. It is about crafting elements to support activity and foster social interaction, involving the process of matching the right offerings, experiences, and environment. The goal is to create something of value for the community. As designers we can only create the structure for this to happen with a multidisciplinary approach. Here are nine quick tips when thinking about Placemaking:

1. Create activity clusters

Interaction is key to activating the symbiotic relationship between people and businesses. Clusters of activity engaging, sensory inducing, groupings of commerce and organic play are key to successful placemaking. A play area next to a children’s book store next to a bakery is a use that works.


2. Create options

Social interaction can be a small group or a large group. Understand there is no one size fits all in placemaking.

3. Understand the Community

It is important to acknowledge and incorporate input from the public using the space. No the local heroes. Vision for a place comes from the community not an individual. Consider the community soul: Understand the history, links, natural landscape. 


4. Design for a Multisensory Experience

People use all their senses to create the feeling of a place. Inviting social spaces that make people feel invited also create social interaction. 


5. Understand adjacent places

Connecting to other “communities” is essential. Those communities are where people live, work, and play. Look for partners as well opportunities to fill a need that doesn’t exist. 


6. A space is not a place

A place can be a space. Every space generates its own unique sense of community and social interaction. This may be good or bad. Place often becomes a lens of people to see life through. 


7. Be creative

Uniqueness in a place is important in creating a local social identity. Know the one factor that makes this space special. The “it” factor. 


8. Be permeable

Create ease of movement and walkability. There should be an efficiency in access and connections to transportation. 


9. Follow the clock

Encourage activity round the clock and be multi-seasonal. Avoid an evening only space can being a wasteland in the day. 


— Luanne Carleton

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Luanne Carleton, FRCH Design Worldwide

Luanne Carleton is Creative Managing Director at FRCH Design Worldwide within the Retail + Mixed-Use Destinations studio. Prior to joining FRCH, Luanne worked for Schooley Caldwell Associates, Wandel & Schnell Architects, and was a partner at Retail Design Group.

She has been with FRCH for over 10 years working with world-class brands including Macy’s, Dicks Sporting Goods, T-Mobile, Lotte, Macerich, GGP and Simon Premium Outlets.  Luanne holds both a Bachelor of Science degree and a Master of Architecture degree from The Ohio State University.

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