Placemaking is an urban design trend that can be seen all over the world. Since the late 1960’s interest in ‘place’ as opposed to ‘space’ has greatly affected the way cities have developed.
Early urban thinkers such as William Whyte and Jane Jacobs initially offered ideas about how designing cities that catered to people in more holistic and sensitive ways could be beneficial to developments.
A focus on building vibrant places and interactive public spaces was adopted and the way we now plan spaces, and master plans has grown to focus more on bringing soul to a space so that there is an intrinsic value proposition to improve a neighborhood, city or region.
The High Line, New York - A 1.45-mile-long elevated linear park, greenway and rail trail created on a former abandoned New York Central Railroad spur on the west side of Manhattan. The tree-lined walkway adds a new park dimension to a previously very urban place. The High Line's success has inspired cities throughout the United States to redevelop obsolete infrastructure as public space.
The High Line, New York
A value proposition can be in terms of quality, diversity, entertainment or alike and adds something different in comparison to other adjacent areas making them readily identifiable.
Placemaking in itself can bring identity to newly formed or rejuvenated spaces by creating a public realm that becomes a destination in its own right.
Governments such as Dubai for example have attempted to almost brand their city, promoting world class architecture and skyscrapers such as the Burj Khalifa and surrounding Emaar Boulevard to catch the world's attention and truly put them on the map.
Angel Wings, Burj Khalifa
I like the quote by landscape architect Martha Schwartz: “I like to see and understand a space, to hear everyone's point of view in order to respond to many different needs.”
The most successful type of diversity to create vibrancy is to create both daytime and nighttime economies of activity that cater to a multitude of needs; when a place is full of people around a 24 hour clock, it is successful.
Vibrancy can be due to activation of residential, workplace, or entertainment services as well as creating different forms-of-need through open spaces, green spaces, arts, and non permanent types of activations such as pop up events, festivals, and various types of seasonal activities.
Clarke Quay Singapore, a historical riverside quay in Singapore that is now a vibrant place and offers some of the most exciting nightlife scenes, as well as a handful of excellent restaurants good for dining by the waters' edge any time of day.
Clarke Quay Singapore
Diverse economies of activity can deliver a round the calendar approach to vibrancy.
For example; The Notting Hill Festival in London is a globally acknowledged event with historical routes. The festival and place grows with momentum every year and the neighborhood thrives.
A more local example could be the edgy art district of Alserkal Avenue in Al Quoz, Dubai which has witnessed a significant overhaul in recent years.
The area boasts a set of unassuming warehouses off the main road housing an evolving collection of art galleries and cafes with a mix of cool installations, sculptures, films and pictures.
Alserkal Avenue in Al Quoz
The Middle East is subject to rapid growth and placemaking is important here to ensure an effective use of spaces and to create areas that encourage people to come together and engage with their surroundings. Urban pockets can be transformed into more integrated neighbourhoods and provide context for the architecture to thrive.
Media City for example is geared to attract certain kinds of business and vibrancy throughout the daytime, but at night the design does not attract a high number of residential or service footfall, and therefore can lack vibrancy during those hours.
To be used more effectively Media City could benefit from more around the clock types of uses that would attract people and businesses to the precinct.
City Walk by Meraas, an open, design-inspired neighbourhood offering shops, restaurants and leisure activities set among low-rise residential buildings, tree-lined avenues and a beautiful collection of street art.
City Walk by Meraas
For the Middle East it’s true that a large amount of the city is built on ribbon development, along a line across the shore, this is almost in contrast to placemaking developments, which are designed on more of a circular paradigm. A circular paradigm creates opportunities for people to arrive from a diverse number of angles or routes and this is important because it increases walkability. When we understand that successful placemaking is all about people, then a primary measure of success is usability.
When buildings are more accessible from a diverse number of routes, such as laneways, backstreets, main streets and the like, then these types of frontages and planning outcomes create diversity in business opportunity and offerings.
This type of planning paradigm is important for the Middle East because it creates more centralization to certain areas. A good example would be Downtown Dubai. This area is centralized around the world famous Burj Khalifa Tower, with Emaar Boulevard designed in a circle that wraps around both Burj Khalifa and The Dubai Mall.
In addition, there is a layering of different types of business and residential offerings, the space is highly pedestrianised offering great walkability for people as well as providing insta-friendly art spots, parks, and greenery.
Downtown #Eats, Emaar Boulevard
Middle East cities need to be more responsive to the climatic reality that they are faced with. The extreme duality of seasons here creates a need for flexibility. Buildings and spaces need to be able to operate with duality for both indoor and outdoor activities to be able to keep vibrancy during both the winter and summer seasons.
A crucial consideration in placemaking for the Middle East is the value of shade. Shade in the public realm is very important because not only can it offer longevity to the cycle of outdoor use but it can have positive sustainable benefits in reducing the thermal load on buildings as well as reducing the amount of heat ingressed to facades.
A second consideration would be for design to encourage higher levels of permeability. Creating walking cities where people are more free in terms of navigation allows for more pedestrianized zones. If these approaches are adopted into the initial master-planning it will encourage higher activation via footfall, whilst also increasing the amount of time people are within the space.
Qingdao Pier, China. A 300 metre ocean bridge connecting land and sea promising endless entertainment with an interior bar street, pedestrian promenades and a generous winter garden plus zero carbon design features. Concept design by dwp