‘Placemaking’ over ‘Urban Designing’
Georgiana Varna uses her lecture to outline the importance of creating meaningful, diverse, public places, particularly at the present time where fragmentation through globalization has begun to take place. Georgiana identifies cities as the primary locations responsible for a loss of authenticity, while noting how cities also provide the people and resources deemed as necessary to create a liveable, public realm. It is here where the concept of placemaking through community design is favoured over urban designing – an act that can be seen as individualized.
[Figure 1: Place de la République, Paris – An example of a public place for organized protests among the community]
To further clarify her thought process, Georgiana defines her 5 Dimensions of Publicness:
Ownership | Animation | Physical Configuration | Control | Civility
The common theme across these attributes is the identification and organization of current and ideal public spaces found throughout communities. Georgiana turns to public spaces of the past (agora, forums, plazas, boulevards, etc.) to help seek understanding and generate ideas of how to revive spaces, particularly through acts of urban regeneration.
[Figure 2: Greek Agora] [Figure 3: Roman Forum] [Figure 4: Champs-Élysées – French Boulevard]
Prominent Themes: Diverse | Places | Individualized | Urban Regeneration
A quick critique on Georgiana’s lecture comes in the form of her view on how the typology of every market, garden, park, beach, promenade, patio, and/or festival can be seen as a quality space. For example, Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh, portrayed as a diverse park by Georgiana, is in reality an underused, tourist filled, wasteland. It represents a space that people are misled into thinking is authentic. Also, other parks throughout Edinburgh are gated and locked past a certain hour, restricting access to many people.
Debatable Points: Quality | Access
Thinking Through Text
In immediate response to the lecture, I thought of an excerpt from Peter Calthorpe and William Fulton’s text, The Regional City: Planning for the End of Sprawl. In a way, Calthorpe and Fulton’s text expands on Georgiana’s thoughts, specifically through the concept of regional design – “an act that integrates multiple facets at once: the demands of the region’s ecology, its economy, its history, its politics, its regulations, its culture, and its social structure” (Calthorpe & Fulton, 2001, p. 362). This all-encompassing perspective can be said to help create diverse, places. Ones that focus on the human scale and everyday interactions.
Regional Design: an act that integrates multiple facets at once – the demands of the region’s ecology, its economy, its history, its politics, its regulations, its culture, and its social structure (Calthorpe & Fulton, 2001, p. 362)
Their point that stands out the most to me is regarding conservation, which is not explained in the conventional sense of the word. It is brought to light as, “the preserving and restoring [of] the cultural, historic, and architectural assets of a place” (Calthorpe & Fulton, 2001, p. 364). By designing with conservation in mind, the result is a public space filled with diverse groups of people that fit with the established surrounding neighbourhood(s). I see this as a window into what Georgiana is hoping to achieve: design by and for a community, particularly communities already embedded within cities.
Urban Regeneration: Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto
[Figure 6: Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto]
While listening to Georgiana’s lecture, I focused in on her point regarding the idea of placemaking over urban designing. Immediately, Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto came to mind. This well-known public plaza/square is located in the heart of the city and represents a space originally “urban designed” (individualized), which then was revitalized (urban regenerated) later on through the process of placemaking. The space is now considered one of Toronto’s “most important landmarks, [which] stands as a symbol of the city’s rejection of its conservative monocultural past, in favour of a diverse, modern global city” (Kapelos, 2015 in URBAN DESIGN International, p. 237).
However, the square was built on the grounds of where many migrant workers used to call home, whether it be through various commercial buildings, legal or illegal houses, or even the alleyways between these buildings. This neighbourhood was erased and replaced with the wide-open modernist styled square (Daly 2021, p. 238). This initial approach can be connected with the process of individualized urban designing.
[Figure 7: Original Use of Nathan Phillips Square Site – Migrant Workers Community]
The follow up revitalized scheme to Nathan Phillips Square can be seen as a reimagined version of a diverse urban place. Other functions such as a space for public protests, a public stage, and a “sky” garden now beckon the square, leaving ample space for groups of various backgrounds to congregate and/or cross paths.
[Figure 8: Nathan Phillips Square 2012 Revitalization Scheme]
It can be noted that the 2012 revitalization scheme did inevitably come with some challenges created through the Modernist urbanism already located on the site. A study conducted on Nathan Phillips Square, whereby the users were interviewed, helped conclude that the current space provides opportunities for ‘intercultural encounters’ and that moving forward, there is a potential for including local leaders of minority ethnic groups in the design process (Daly, 2021). This final point represents the opportunity for Georgiana’s vision of reviving an urban public space through communal design to be brought to fruition.
Daly, J. (2021). Nathan Phillips Square: mediating intercultural encounter through urban design. URBAN DESIGN International, 26: 234-255. https://doi.org/10.1057/s41289-021-00154-w
LeGates, R. T., & Stout, F. (2001). “Designing the Region (is Designing the Neighbourhood” from The Regional City: Planning for the End of Sprawl by Peter Calthorpe and William Fulton (2001). In The City Reader (5th ed..) (pp. 360-365). Routledge.
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