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Place-making is a frequently used term in commercial real estate, whereby buildings, public places, infrastructure and technology combine to create a space that encourages community participation, comments Tony Crabb, National Director, Research.

Picadilly Circus

There are many great examples of successful place-making including Washington Square and Bryant Park in New York, Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus in London and more locally the parks, malls and squares in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

It we take a look at these stand-out examples of place-making, where destinations have been created, what are the common themes? What are the critical success factors for creating places and spaces that people use?

Firstly, authenticity. Humans crave authenticity and spaces that are developed in the context of their surrounding environment, and have a much greater chance of delivering an authentic experience.  Spaces that are sensitive to the cultures of the communities in which they exist will encourage curiosity.  Place-makers must first seek to understand the needs of potential users, then design and deliver to those requirements rather than build spaces in isolation of those community needs. Just because something works in another city or country doesn’t mean you should transport the model in an exact replica locally. Generally those spaces that have evolved rather than been designed are more successful. Much of what is great in the world is because it has been given permission to adapt, evolve and include.

Secondly accessibility.  Accessibility is about walkability, rideability, access to public transport, parking facilities and a solution for traffic congestion.  Linked to this is proximity to target segments. How many families, singles, couples, students, workers, retirees and elderly are close to the space? Is there a reasonable expectation that they will be able to access the space given their proximity?


Thirdly diversity of experience.  The more diverse experiences that are offered by a space, the more likely people will engage with it.  What uses are available – retail, recreation, collaboration, relaxation, employment, culture for community participation?  Single-use precincts such as all residential, all commercial or all recreational are not as appealing as integrated experiences.  The concept of the ’30-minute city’ – where the community live 30 minutes from everything they need – is a way to create something that is truly desirable, valuable and lasting.

Next is relevance.  Relevance and utility is reflective of community.  For example, there is little point having a park if there is no play equipment, no open space, no seats, no barbecues, no exercising and no dog walking. Having a community asset that is inaccessible to sectors of the community due to opening hours, physical restrictions or relevance is also a wasted opportunity. Often events are held to activate a space and encourage community participation and again to be successful need to be relevant.

In the world we live in today, safety is a critical element to successful place-making.  The safer individuals feel the more likely they are to engage with the space. Safety covers lighting, opening hours, cleanliness, clear entry and exit points, density and diversity of people as well as people using the space at all times.

Lastly but possibly most important in our view is inclusion.  Does the space offer opportunities for all members of the community to engage with it?  The reality is that many different community groups experience exclusion and social isolation based on the initial design. Has there been thought given to the elderly, the less mobile, those with hearing impairment, visual impairment, mental health conditions, intellectual disability, the economically disadvantaged, those on the autism spectrum and children with special needs.

Inclusion, tolerance and diversity should be at the heart of everything we deliver in the built environment. If we start out with people in mind, we will deliver an extraordinary built environment and that is what we should strive for.

Tony Crabb - National Director, Research