Moving beyond creative placemaking at AAG 2015

This April I presented a paper on my Indianapolis case study, Big Car, at the 2015 meeting of the American Association of Geographers in Chicago.

With 9.5K delegates and sessions that span all forms of geography, the conference was as busy and buzzing as you’d expect. The arts had a healthy presence in the programme and my paper, ‘Moving beyond creative placemaking: the micropublic of a social practice placemaking project’ was presented as part of the Creative Placemaking and its Micropublics. The session was convened by Martin Zebracki, University of Leeds, and Saskia Warren, University of Manchester; fellow speakers were Micheal Rios, University of California, and Annette Koh, University of Hawaii at Manoa.

My paper aimed to disrupt the creative placemaking term as one misused in the placemaking sector; from a vernacular aspect, commonly to mean any placemaking with any arts component in it; and on a policy level, as a placemaking approach that uses the arts in placemaking to economic ends. The focus of my PhD research has been on what I have come to term social practice placemaking, one where the arts are situated at the grassroots and primarily employed for social and cultural gain, the economic imperative found in creative placemaking either missing or of lower significance. Amin’s micropublics of the title was used as a theory to explain the agency of such projects to galvanise people around arts and place and this was framed in the example of my Indianapolis case study, Big Car. 


Placemaking typology

An artworked version of my placemaking typology, with explanatory text and example projects has been created by Rachel Gillies. This typology has emerged from my PhD research, firstly from my own need in process to classify projects that I see, but then to also aid the sector.

The typology can be found here as well as below. 

Whilst various types of placemaking may share common concerns, essentially the making of place by actors in the urban realm, there is a need for a clear classification of practice in the sector for several reasons, not least the risk of an attenuation of the term and practice of placemaking. Owen (1984) states that community art’s failure to construct its own theoretical framework was reason for its relative devaluing in the art sector. If the placemaking sector does not create its own theoretical framework it risks a similar reduction of a “naïve romanticism” of its claims to outcomes and a side-lining in urban design and planning as a creative, worthy “welfare arts” (ibid., p29) adjunct to be deployed tactically by social service administrations and for city marketing and regeneration, rather than as a meaningful strategy for urban living (Schneekloth and Shibley 2000 p130). This would only be compounded by the cumulative confusion augmented by the competing demands made and expectations of placemaking (Markusen and Gadwa 2012, Fleming 2007).

It is hoped that the sharing of knowledge across types of placemaking will redress exclusory power practices by uncovering the many different types of placemaking undertaken by different ecologies of practice and people and result in the opening up of a continually negotiated border position that Schneekloth and Shibley (2000) advocates.

A placemaking typology then could illuminate nuanced practice for this professional cohort, as well as clearly articulating to those outside of the placemaking sector the variety of and value in these practices.

The typology will appear in my PhD thesis in this form that has a magnification of social practice placemaking as the focus of my research, and also with an equally weighted form.