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Museum Placemaking

What Makes a Successful Place ?
What Makes a Successful Place ?, Project for Public Spaces

Museum Placemaking is the multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. Placemaking capitalizes on a local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people’s health, happiness, and well being. Placemaking is both a process and a philosophy.(1)

“All Museums Are Local”
My paraphrase of Tip O’Neil, “All Politics Is Local”(2)

What makes a successful place ?
What makes a great place place ? From Project for Public Spaces
Principles of Museum Placemaking (3)

Underlying Ideas:
1. The Community Knows Best
An important aspect of placemaking is taking into account inputs of the people who will be using the public space most. That is, to say, the community for which the public space is intended. This is important because members of the community are likely to have useful insights into how the space does – or should – function, as well as a historical perspective of the area, and an understanding of what does and does not matter to other members of the community.

2. Places, Not Designs
Placemaking is not just about designing a park of plaza with efficient pedestrian circulation. It involves taking into account the interrelations between surrounding retailers, vendors, amenities provided, and activities taking place in the space, then fine-tuning the space with landscape changes, additions of seating, etc., to make all of those elements mesh. The end result should be a cohesive unit that creates greater value for the community than just the sum of its parts.

3. Placemaking is a Group Effort
Partners for political, financial, and intellectual backing are crucial to getting a public space improvement project off the ground. These partners can range from individuals, to private or municipal institutions, to museums, to schools.

4. Make and Act on Observations
By observing how a public space is used, it is possible to gain an understanding of what the community does and does not like about it. This understanding can be used to assess what activities and amenities may be missing from the space. Even after a public space has been built, observation is key to properly managing it, and evolving it to better suit the community’s needs over time.

Planning and Outreach Techniques:
5. Requires a Vision
As with many other types of project, a placemaking project needs a vision to succeed. This vision should not be the grand design of a single person, but the aggregate conception of the entire community.

6. Requires Patience
A placemaking project does not happen overnight. Do not be discouraged if things do not go exactly as planned at first, or if progress seems slow.

Translating Ideas Into Action:
7. Triangulate
Triangulation is represented between a mural, cafe, and street vendor in Plazoleta del Chorro de Quevedo, located in La Candelaria, Bogotá, Colombia.
Triangulation, simply put, is the strategic placement of amenities, such that they encourage social interaction, and are used more frequently. For example, “if a children’s reading room in a new library is located so that it is next to a children’s playground in a park and a food kiosk is added, more activity will occur than if these facilities were located separately.” [3]

8. Ignore Naysayers
Just because it hasn’t been done doesn’t mean it can’t be done. What it does mean is that there are few people, in either the private or public sectors, who have the job of creating places.

9. Form Supports Function
A public space’s form factor should be formulated with its intended function(s) in mind.

Implementation:
10. Money Should Not Be an Issue
If networking and team building have been executed correctly, public sentiment towards the project should be positive enough to overlook its monetary cost.

11. Placemaking is an Ongoing Process
Placemaking is never “done”. Minor tweaks can be made to improve the space’s usefulness to its community over time, and regular maintenance/upkeep of facilities and amenities is a fact of life.

Museum Placemaking Resources:

What is Placemaking?, Project for Public Spaces Website

Project for Public Spaces, PDF What Is Placemaking ? (2016)

National Endowment for the Arts, PDF Creative Placemaking(2010)

National Endowment for the Arts, PDF Creative Placemaking (2017)

Footnotes:
(1) Placemaking Wikipedia
(2) Chris Matthews (2 November 1999). Hardball: How Politics Is Played Told By One Who Knows The Game. Simon and Schuster. p. 53. ISBN 978-1-4165-6261-0.
(3) According to Project for Public Spaces, successful placemaking is based on eleven basic principles

About Mark Walhimer

Mark is Managing Partner of Museum Planning, LLC, a museum planning and exhibition project management firm of interactive educational environments for Science Centers, Children's Museums and Natural History Museums. You can reach Mark at mark@walhimer.com.

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