Social Justice & Urban Sustainability

Space and Place


The Project for Public Spaces (PPS) clarifies that there is a distinguishing difference between the words “space” and “place.” “A space is a physical description of a piece of land, wheras a place connotes an emotional attachment to the piece of land(PPS).” The design and use of public spaces and places have always defined the values of societies around the world. The evolution of the United States has been no exception to this experience. As significant the defining of public space and the place it becomes is in the creation of a cultural image, the role and value it plays in the development of America has been ever changing.
In the third chapter of Agyeman’s text, he explains to us that through-out the history of United States, consumerism has been the driving force of devaluing the use and effects of space and place in a community. The use of public space was once state owned and decided upon the community to define and make it into a place. Now over this last century, we have experienced the trend of public spaces being controlled or owned privatively. This has led to the issues of social inequalities that we are challenged with today. Ageyman makes in point that there has been a heavier emphasis on the expansion of consumerism rather than focus on creating community-based places that inspire civic engagement.
When a space is owned privately, it is the owner who decides how it is used and what kind of place it is going to be. This eliminates the opportunity for a community to come together and decide as a whole what they want the place to become. This is an incredible opportunity, often overlooked, that is vital in creating community value. For an example, if the private entity owns a neighborhood park, the owner has complete control to dictate the recreational use of it to be tennis based even if the neighboring community would prefer a soccer field. This causes oppression on the community because the control of power and voice is taken away and cultural imperialism dominates. The community doesn’t get the chance to form the soccer identity that they have the potential to be.
However, fear not, a new emphasis on the movement of place making has been trending the last 40 years. The reclaiming of public space has been an ongoing battle amongst different communities across the United States. Communities have been arguing that a public space cannot be limited but should be a place with no fixed meaning. The idea of place-making, is taking a space and allowing it to be a place in which its meaning is constantly shifting and being redefined by the community. Richard Dolesh, chief of public policy at the National Recreation & Park Association, explains that place making isn’t just an exercise in community engagement but also leads to better practices in environmental conservation and sustainable development. Dolesh tells us that “the making of public places often involves a green component—landscape elements, beautification and even storm water management. Conservation becomes an integral part of the process. It strengthens community commitment and provide[s] many new ways to engage volunteers and make the benefits of place making long lasting and self renewing (Dolesh).”
Founded in New York city, the Project for Public Spaces is a nonprofit planning, design and educational organized that is dedicated to helping communities create and sustain public places that help build community relationships. They believe that the idea of place making has the potential to be one of the most transformative ideas of this century. This organization helps by taking certain public spaces and transforms them into places that celebrate local assets, motivates rejuvenation and meets common needs. Their projects are heavily focused improving the dynamics of small urban communities. However, their area of work has ranged from civic squares, public transportation centers, public markets and federal buildings.
Through my research, I have become particularly excited about another movement that aids in the drive of place making. Creative place making is another internationally recognized phenomenon that is trending. In a conversational interview, Tim Jones, president and CEO of Artscape, explains that place making is “more about the intentional effort made by a group of people coming together to build the experience, the quality, the identity or a character of a place by working small scale projects like the improvement of a town square or creation of a farmer’s markets in which these strategies are focused on large spaces such as a district or a neighborhood.” Jones describes that “creative place making is more of a discipline within that practice that is intentionally using or employing the arts culture as a driver for transformation, growth and change in a way that builds quality, character and identity.” Creative place making is an emerging field of practice that plays out on a smaller scale such as a through the use of public art strategies, building colors and community art programs. Artscape is a company that focuses on bringing together a critical mass of creative people into a district, as a way to secure, attract, diversify and sustain cultural districts in cities.
I really think that place making is effective in lessoning the social injustices that occur in communities nation-wide. The concept of place making has been around since the 70’s, but it has been an ongoing battle between the rights of community voice in public space and the expansion of consumerism. The voice of the community should power over the word of privatization. The route America has been taking in allowing consumerism dictate community space hasn’t been working. If anything it has caused more oppression on the people. The community is the real expert in knowing how an area functions and what issues are important to address when improving a space. The people who use a public space on a regular basis, has the most perspective on which direction a space should become a place. By acknowledging and incorporating the ideas and talents of the majority, only then can we create a success and vital community space in a more sustainable way.
Post By: Rachel L.
Works Cited
Agyeman, J. (2013) Introducing Just Sustainabiliites Policy, Planning and Practice (pp.97-106). London: Zed Books.

Project for Public Spaces. (n.d.) “Eleven Principles for Creating Community Places.” Retrieved January 28, 2014 from http://www.pps.org/reference/what_is_placemaking

Dolesh, J. Richard. (December 2013). “Vol. 48, No. 12: Making Conservation a Part of Placemaking: Intentionally Created Public Places Can Play a Significant Role in Sustainable Community Development.” Retrieved January 28, 2014 from: http://www.questia.com/library/1G1-354857889/making-conservation-a-part-of-placemaking-intentionally
Toronto Artscape Inc. (n.d.) “What is Creative Place Making: Interview with Tim Jones Discussing Artscape’s Appraoch to Creative Place Making.” Retrieved Janaury 29, 2014 from: http://www.artscapediy.org/Creative- Placemaking/What-is-Creative-Placemaking.aspx

2 thoughts on “Space and Place

  1. I think you speak to the injustice in the devaluation of public space through denying a community to self determine spaces used for enjoyment and recreation. Public spaces are suppose to be inclusive of all people to meet as equals as articulated in “Just Sustainabilities.” Unfortunately, this does not always happen in a society of haves and have nots. However, this does not need to be the case. Agyeman speaks of revolutionary changes necessary to transform and guide human interactions in a new economic formation (Agyeman 2013).

  2. Rachel, I like where you went with these ideas on space and place.

    I think we are at a time (especially with today’s technology) where we can really get connected with people in communities and figure out how they feel and what they are in need of as far as a spatial community is concerned. It seems as though we have always designed places in a reactive way. (The biggest example of this is the automobile and urban sprawl.) Looking forward, designing spaces in a proactive way might help to prevent the injustices we seeing playing out in our neighborhoods today.

    Your post kept reminding me of urban gardens and parks which citizens re-developed. There are many examples where people noticed places that were trashed and dilapidated and turned them into vibrant spaces of life and growth. Examples are the park in New York that used to be an elevated rail line, as well as urban gardens in Detroit, and even HUG (Hilltop Urban Garden) here in Tacoma.

    Using space and place to choreograph interactions between people and between people and nature is essential to our well being. I look forward to supporting and learning more about the development of these ideas!


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