How can placemaking in cities around the world contribute to our global recovery?

Join CUI’s President and CEO Mary W. Rowe, along with Ethan Kent, Executive Director, PlacemakingX; Ramon Marrades, Director, Placemaking Europe; Lhazin Nedup, Planning Consultant, Urban Platform; and Ayanda Roji, General Manager: Corporate Research, Policy and Knowledge Management, Johannesburg City Parks, for an exploration how placemaking will contribute towards a global recovery, while creating a thriving, more equitable, and sustainable world.

5 Key

A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation


1. Reclaim the streets and build public space from the grassroots

City-builders in a post-COVID pandemic world need to recognize the vulnerability of coming back into public spaces, connecting with people, and falling back in love with the city, says Ethen Kent, Executive Director at PlacemakingX. Ethan reiterates the importance of building public spaces from the grassroots up, centered around existing communities and neighbourhoods. In New York City (NYC), individuals committed to the city long-term have remained. They are organizing themselves and reclaiming the streets, sidewalks, and other public spaces. Local neighbourhoods continue to be resilient during the recovery process, they see the importance of shared wealth, the connections to public spaces, economic success, and social outcomes. Placemaking is about building spaces where people can support each other and recruit their collective empathy. Ethan concludes saying that ‘The gated communities fail to appreciate shared wealth and local identity, and that is a bankrupt way of living’.

2. Informal workers and youth need support in the public realm

In South Africa, they are getting youth involved in civic discussions by using Minecraft (a creative video game). Young people are needed to tackle wicked problems cities face, deserving special recognition in placemaking realm. They are integral when building a future, one they will one-day inherit. So young people expressed their needs, specifically noting their need for ‘chilling space’ and an information wall outlining available jobs and programs. Ayanda Roji, General Manager of Corporate Research, Policy and Knowledge Management at Johannesburg City Parks reinforces the notion that informality is good. In South Africa, Sidewalks Food Gardens initiative is transforming street corners into food gardens. Similarly, other cities like Banjul in Gambia and Dire Dawa in Ethiopia are reorganizing their markets, converting their streets, and reducing car lanes to accommodate informal workers or informal trade and vending. These placemaking spaces are locally driven to focus on the needs of informal workers.

3. Placemaking initiatives build social resilience and contribute to economic development

Lhazin Nedup, Planning Consultant at Urban Platform gives us a snapshot into Bhutan’s placemaking initiatives that have significantly improved the country’s resiliency amid the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Lhazin, the De-Suung or ‘Guardians of Peace’ Program was built [at the start of the pandemic] in the spirit of volunteerism, community service and civic responsibility. The program invites residents to undergo training on a voluntary basis so they can respond to emergencies. The COVID-19 pandemic increased the number of participants or ‘Desuups’ in the program with approximately 22,000 residents across Bhutan getting involved. The Desuups were essential in building space in the city as they worked on water projects and construction sites. Another initiative happening in Bhutan is called The Trans Bhutan Trail. This initiative plans to revive a 500-kilometer cross-country trail that spreads across 9 of 20 districts in Bhutan. This placemaking project will strengthen people’s connection to place, preserve history and stimulate economic growth in the form of tourism. Bhutan will rely on tourists to generate revenue and funds to maintain public infrastructure. We can see how placemaking can also be an economic development tool. Lhazin described these examples of great placemaking because they are about “…creating communities that have the greater capacity to self-organize, to pilot their ideas, to express outreach and solidarity”. She quoted urbanist Fred Kent who said ‘True #placemaking is not about creating great places, rather it’s about creating great communities’.

4. Without great public spaces, the magic of a city is lost

“Nowadays doctors are not falling in love with dancers because they are not seeing each other”. Ramon Marrades, Director at Placemaking Europe said poetically about the problem of gated community. “Private communities are depriving people of many possibilities.” Ramon also reiterates the importance of a broad social mix and opening our cities to migrants, international students, and diverse groups of people so they can find prosperity and then, in turn make our cities vibrant and prosperous. Diversity in public space is vital for economic development. The City of Barcelona is launching an online initiative called After COVID City Public Space for Recovery to understand the role of places and people in the recovery process. Cities must invest in people and that also means investing in more inclusive, accessible public spaces.

5. Canada sees great value in transforming public spaces in response to COVID-19 pandemic

Placemaking initiatives can help build resiliency and equity in our communities. The COVID-19 pandemic has given us an opportunity to rethink, reimagine and transform public spaces. We need to put individual health and well-being at the forefront. Canada’s Healthy Communities Initiative is dedicated to helping community organizations who wish to help create safe and vibrant public spaces, improve mobility options, and provide innovative digital solutions. The initiative encourages communities across Canada to create physical or digital public spaces that are resilient, equitable, and inclusive so they can provide their communities strength during the pandemic recovery period.