Conference Report

“Placemaking Week is a great opportunity to learn by doing, connect and reconnect with placemakers from all around the world with different backgrounds, and of course, get empowered and inspired.”

— Placemaking Week Attendee

“The possibilities are so powerful that anyone connected with urban issues should attend Placemaking Week at least once.”

—Leonardo, Placemaking Week Attendee

“Honestly, the social interactions fostered here were excellent. Plenty of opportunities to network in a professional environment, but also just to connect with practitioners and exchange ideas and experiences.”

— Kamari, Placemaking Week Attendee

"The biggest takeaway from the week were the people I met, and the conversations we had, and the connections I hope we maintain. I was moved by the passion and dedication demonstrated by people from all over the world, about the difference placemaking can make to communities."

— Conor, Placemaking Week Attendee

“I made connections with people from British Columbia, Kuala Lumpur, Russia, Kansas, and more. We have stayed in communication and continue to help each other remotely.”

— Placemaking Week Attendee

“The atmosphere of the event was great—welcoming and inspiring.”

— Païvi, Placemaking Week Attendee

“The biggest takeaway for me is to keep an open mind and continue to be creative in placemaking endeavors, even if city officials or leaders think that the ideas are crazy or impossible. Nothing is impossible. Shoot for the stars and aim high.”

— Placemaking Week Attendee

Placemaking Week is a multi-day conference about leveraging the convergence of many global issues around public space—from health to sustainability, innovation to equity. Primarily geared at practitioners, activists, and policy makers, Placemaking Week provides a series of topic-specific sessions and workshops highlighting project experiences, best practices, and major thought leadership in the placemaking field.

The main plenary sessions at Placemaking Week, which took place at Pakhuis de Zwijger in the Grote Zaal, featured a range of placemaking experts from around the globe.

Building on the momentum of previous annual meetings of the Placemaking Leadership Council in the U.S. in Detroit (2013) and Pittsburgh (2014), the inaugural Placemaking Week took place in 2016 in Vancouver, Canada, when it joined the biennial Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place conference. In 2018 Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place, now called Walk/Bike/Places, will take place in New Orleans and feature a range of placemaking focused sessions, meetings, and workshops.

As can be seen from the interactive map below, Placemaking Week 2017 attendees and participants came from all over the world, from a range of professions, making this our most global, and multi-disciplinary event ever. Click on the map to see our full reach! Within the overall group of attendees almost half of them were speakers, making this event not only global, but primary led by practitioners themselves. We feel this was strongly demonstrated in the program, and you can read more about how later in the report when we dive deeper into the “big ideas” behind our four conference themes.

For interactive map click here.
Attendance at Placemaking Week 2017 represented a variety of countries, and was multi-disciplinary.

For Placemaking Week 2017, we headed to Amsterdam—a city with one of the most exemplary, people-centric transportation systems in Europe. Renowned for its focus on biking as a primary mode of transportation, and with strong local activism pushing such initiatives such as “Car-free Sundays” as far back as the 1970s, Amsterdam was an ideal location for a conference focused on community and citizen-led change. The city is also a global leader in sustainability, not only because of its focus on walking and biking, but also because of its smart urban design and unique community initiatives, as well as the fact that it is one of the most socially inclusive cities in Europe. Amsterdam's waterfront approach is also unparalleled. In addition to being both beautiful and functional, the city’s canals also provide a unique landscape for vibrant streetlife.

Just as Amsterdam’s physical landscape set the scene for an inspiring conference, so did its unique relationship with placemaking, both past and present. For example, back in 2010 PPS facilitated a placemaking workshop with local stakeholders around Plein 40-45, the central square of the garden city Geuzenveld-Slotermeer on the western edge of Amsterdam. Bringing together a diverse group of neighbors, the workshop helped to develop a number of short and long term strategies for improvement; many of which have since been implemented.

As a whole, the city’s built environment revolves around great streets and a human-scale approach to development, resulting in a strong network of places in which people feel connected and engaged.

Amsterdam was not only picturesque, but an ideal location for a conference focused on community and citizen-led change.

Partners

Much of what made Placemaking Week 2017 such a special event was the relationship and collaboration between the multiple partners that helped to create, develop, and host the event. Working together with STIPO, Pakhuis de Zwijger, and Placemaking Plus enabled the event to have a very local focus, as well as strong local impacts.

Co-organizer STIPO (“STIPO” stands for Strategy, Innovation, Process development and Open-source), was key in making Placemaking Week such a dynamic and interactive experience for attendees. A multi-disciplinary consultancy team for urban strategy and city development, STIPO is best known for the City at Eye Level—a program for improving cities, streets, and places worldwide; an open source learning network; and also a book. The City at Eye Level is all about creating great places in which people want to stay longer. To do this, it advocates for human scale interaction between buildings and streets, ownership by users, active ground floors or “plinths,” and a people-centred approach to placemaking based on user experience.

Our partner, venue, and central hub for the event was Pakhuis de Zwijger, an independent platform for, and by, the city of Amsterdam and its inhabitants. A former refrigerated warehouse, today the space functions as a debate centre of the 21st century, putting dialogue before debate and connection before opposition. The venue stimulates collaboration towards a livable city and puts urgent matters on the agenda, linking them to the creative industry. For them it is about integrating, connecting domains and disciplines, sharing knowledge and experiences, and designing and imagineering the future of everyday living.

Placemaking Plus is a collaborative, multi-disciplinary effort from a range of practitioners who work on projects across the Netherlands, facilitating the placemaking process via community engagement activities such as Place Games. Their work has helped to implement long term change that engages the community, building upon their needs and expertise, and helping inspire better and more inclusive places.

Finally, to tie everything together and celebrate the launch of Placemaking Week, we invited some our our friends and partners from 2016’s event in Vancouver, and 2016's regional event in Nairobi, to come and “pass the torch” to our partners in Amsterdam at our opening party at Broedplaats LELY which featured an inspiring welcome by NDSM's Eva de Klerk.

Working with STIPO, Pakhuis de Zwijger, and Placemaking Plus enabled Placemaking Week to have a local focus.

NETWORK-BUILDING

 

One of the most important outcomes of Placemaking Week 2017 was the creation of a European Placemaking Network, led by PPS partner organization Stipo, to improve collaboration and learning across the continent. A strategy session at the conference laid the foundation for this effort, and participants had many powerful examples to learn from along the way. Related sessions included lessons from members of URBACT, the EU’s intercity learning network, and the Michigan Municipal League, which has led a multifaceted statewide placemaking campaign, as well as younger networks like the Women-Led Cities Initiative. PPS looks forward to seeing what comes of the emerging European movement. Already, a founding document, an introductory video, survey, a newsletter, and groups on Facebook and LinkedIn have begun, so if you are a European placemaker and you haven’t joined yet, do so today! For those who want to reach out even further than Europe, don't forget about the Placemaking Leadership Council, designed to encourage international placemakers to connect. More than 1300 people from over 75 countries are currently members of the PLC, and we hope that Amsterdam participants will join too!

Even though there was a focus on establishing the European Network, it seemed like a range of new relationships were cemented at the conference, creating a global network beyond our wildest expectations—some of these images show the proof!

A range of relationships were cemented at the conference, creating a global network beyond our wildest expectations.

PLACE GAMES

To kick off Placemaking Week 2017 on Tuesday, a series of workshops organized by STIPO and Placemaking Plus brought attendees to various parts of Amsterdam to participate in “Place Games” - a tool used to describe the positive attributes of a place, and highlight areas that can be improved upon. The goal of the Place Games around Amsterdam was to gather ideas to help develop Amsterdam’s 20-year growth plan, while bringing together a global group of participants who would contribute suggestions and solutions based on their own experience. Beyond being an informative and productive exercise for those visiting each project/location, the Place Games also gave participants a fun introduction to the city and a helpful avenue for making personal connections at the conference.

For example, one of the Place Games took a handful of attendees to an arts incubator in the western portion of the city, Broedplaats WOW, which hosts artists in residence from Amsterdam art academies, and complements these studios with a 350-bed hostel, a restaurant, and urban farm. Others traveled over the river IJ to the north of Amsterdam, or Amsterdam Noord, to the Hamerstraatterein neighborhood to work with local stakeholders to analyze challenges and opportunities in an area that is experiencing rapid change.

Each of the Place Games began with a series of introductory talks followed by an activity in which participants took time to document and analyze a portion of the location, and then return for a deeper discussion about what was uncovered during the activity. Below is a full list of the Place Games that took place at Placemaking Week, with links to reports on each one so that you can see all of the results for yourself!

Placemaking Week's Place Games brought attendees to one of six sites in Amsterdam, where participants used the Place Game tool and contributed suggestions and feedback based on their own experience.

CITY EXPEDITIONS

Placemaking Week 2017 was in many ways a nationwide event. City officials from communities around the Netherlands attended and participated with sponsorships from their individual governments, while international attendees had the opportunity to help improve a public space in a city outside of Amsterdam through a free “city expedition.” Led by local stakeholders, these trips provided background on each city’s unique public space assets and challenges, and invited participants to observe real places and brainstorm placemaking strategies based on their own expertise.

Each city focused on a locally specific yet globally relevant topic:

  • Almere explored how to retrofit the heart of a fast-growing New Town.
  • Delft asked how placemaking could help heal a scar left by removing above ground railway infrastructure downtown.
  • Dordrecht aimed to reorient its renewal efforts toward community engagement, rather than aesthetics.
  • Haarlem hoped to build on successful community-driven reuses of a shopping mall and prison through placemaking and additional residential development.
  • Rotterdam aspired to move beyond its blockbuster public spaces, like its well known market hall, to embrace more human scale transformations of streets into places.
  • The Hague investigated how placemaking strategies could help bridge sectors and industries in its emerging downtown innovation district.
  • Tilburg strategized about how to expand its smaller placemaking efforts into a citywide approach to public space.
  • Utrecht considered how placemaking could address the challenge of maintaining public health and resilience in the face of rapid growth.
  • Zwolle focused on how their underperforming central square and train station could become a public destination for the entire city.
City Expeditions provided background on each city’s unique public space assets and challenges, and invited participants to observe real places and projects in action.

SHORT TALKS: PLACEMAKING IN PRACTICE

During the core conference days, an important series of “Short Talks” featured speakers from around the world primarily sourced through our Call for Proposals process. The goal of the Short Talks sessions was to showcase active practitioners, researchers, and activists around a group of general topics relating to placemaking, in order to highlight success stories and lessons learned from a variety of contexts. Topics of these Short Talks included: Data & Research, Cultures & Contexts, Ethics & Equity, Public Sector & Public Space, and Community Process. These exciting sessions covered everything from reimagining public spaces through ping pong in Vancouver, to democratizing place policy in San Francisco, to the design and right of play for children in Taiwan. There were far too many wonderful talks to list here, but descriptions of each of these sessions is available here in the program, and even better, they were recorded so you actually can watch them all here!!

"Short Talks” featured speakers from around the world sourced through our Call for Proposals process.

Big Ideas

2017’s conference themes focused on a range of relevant topics and pressing issues fitting into the context of Amsterdam, but that were also applicable on a global scale. All themes had been thoughtfully developed by all partners with the idea that we are slowly moving from one way of thinking about public space, to another.

Placemaking and Innovation was a popular theme with a focus on moving “from isolated campuses to hubs of opportunity”. This was an equally appropriate topic given that in 2016 Amsterdam received the European Capital of Innovation Award. Amsterdam even has a municipal policy for creating hubs of creativity called “Broedplaatsen” (literally, “breeding places”). These arts incubators—De Ceuvel, Broedplaats WOW, Broedplaats LELY, De Modestraat, Hannekes Boom and Pakhuis de Zwijger itself—served as the venues for many of the conference’s events.  

Both pre-conference days included firsthand experiences in Dutch innovation districts. On Tuesday, attendees conducted public space observations of Zuidas, a district in Amsterdam anchored by the city’s World Trade Center and other financial uses. On Wednesday, others took an expedition to The Hague, an international center of governance and security, to explore its public realm, interview workers and place managers about their experience, and brainstorm placemaking ideas alongside local officials.

Back at the conference venue, the conversation on innovation and place continued, with a hands-on session by managers of community spaces in Chattanooga’s downtown innovation district, and an intensive workshop to reorient the discussion on urban data around placemaking led by PPS fellow Daniel Latorre. Many sessions also explored public markets as engines of local innovation, entrepreneurship, and opportunity, including a Place Game in Reigersbos, and tours of the city’s many markets.

Placemaking and Innovation was a theme focused on moving places of innovation “from isolated campuses to hubs of opportunity”.

The many physical factors and social forces that determine our overall health and well-being converge in the places we live. Therefore the Equity, Health and Well-being theme focused on moving “from band-aid solutions to stopping problems where they start.” 

While some developments are built around (and profit from) the idea of exclusivity, placemaking is about increasing “quality of life” and economic opportunity for everyone, not just a privileged few. Many of Placemaking Week’s sessions focused on exactly this, looking at how placemaking enables citizens to create and maintain their own places, which reflect the specific challenges and assets of the community. For example, in thinking about experiencing cities from the perspective of youth, the popular session Children and Youth as Placemaking Catalysts looked at how children can also bring creativity and innovation into the way we approach open and public space. In an experiential off-site workshop addressing similar themes, participants explored the challenges and opportunities of navigating a selected neighborhood through the lens of a 95cm-tall child.

Other conference sessions looked at the ways in which communities can become active agents in the co-creation and continued stewardship of their public spaces. Placemaking for Peacemaking, for example, considered how we can create places where people with competing ideas, goals, and lifestyles can meet and use the space simultaneously and without conflict. In various sessions focusing on gentrification, participants looked at the ways in which positioning community members as cultivators of the local economy might better encourage the development and implementation of a resident-led vision for the future of the neighborhood.

Another salient theme at Placemaking Week was the role of women in cities and public space, which was evident  in the popularity of sessions like A Feminist Approach to Placemaking and the Women-Led Cities meetup, where discussions centered on how to bring women’s voices to the forefront of the urban discussion, and how to achieve a greater level of equity in the discourse of urban planning and design.

Equity, Health and Well-being focused on addressing exclusive practices, moving “from band-aid solutions to stopping problems where they start.”

Streets as Places and Transportation looked at shifting our thinking about streets “from places we go through, to places we go to”—a very appropriate theme for Amsterdam, which transformed itself from a car-dominant city to a bike-dominant city in the 1970s. As more and more cities are following suit and beginning to rebalance streets to work better for all users, they could still do so much more. As some of Amsterdam’s best public spaces demonstrate, beyond functioning simply as routes to get from place to place, streets can become places in their own right.

One of the most radical recent developments in street design has been the rise of “shared space,” a traffic engineering technique that replaces the onslaught of signs, lights, lines, and curbs with a heavier reliance on human social behavior. Ben Hamilton-Baillie, an international expert on the subject, served as the keynote for Placemaking Week, making a strong argument for the ability of our streets to generate civility, humanity, and sociability through shared space. A number of interactive and off-site workshops, as well as an evening fireside chat gave attendees a more in-depth understanding of the nuances, challenges, and potential of this exciting idea.

Of course, a Placemaking Week in Amsterdam wouldn’t be worthy of the name if it didn’t include bikes. In a community where cycling is second nature, many of the off-site events organized by local partners included tours or transportation on two wheels, and many other events out in the city gave opportunities to watch the unique sociability of bike culture in the city, such as the session on Amsterdam, the Cycling City. Covering everything from the important role of “stoop-sitting” in communities to the competing interests of vending and transit infrastructure, many of the week’s  sessions and tours reminded us of the multiple roles our streets must play in order to be successful places.

Streets as Places and Transportation looked at shifting our thinking about streets “from places we go through, to places we go to”—a very appropriate theme for Amsterdam.

Place-led Development and Citymaking focused on moving away from one-off projects towards deeper systemic change in order to understand how everyone—from politicians and city planners, to architects and real estate developers, and even economic development agencies—can broaden the impact of their work on communities by engaging the entire machinery of city building.

Thinking about development as a process grounded in place rather than one grounded in design has been a major focus for the City of Amsterdam. Many of the sessions involving development in our host city emphasized the importance of place-led development, and the relationship between the city, developers, and placemaking in general. This relationship was emphasized in Strange Bedfellows, which focused on how stakeholders with different goals can create value for all through the placemaking process. Other sessions discussed how cities can continue to develop places at the human scale and a how a sense of place can, and should, be woven into new developments. Sessions like Planning for Public Space in Amsterdam and others addressed concerns about how to prepare for the growth that is expected to take place in the city by 2025, while at the same time maintaining the quality and accessibility of public space. Similarly, the session on the City at Eye Level was all about setting an agenda for reshaping the ground floor of the city, and discussing the biggest challenges to creating a better urban future at eye level. A special Netherlands edition of the City at Eye Level book, which was available to conference registrants, featured essays from cities across the Netherlands that also participated at the conference.

In terms of citymaking and systemic change, some sessions focused on the powerful role that small scale, “lighter, quicker, cheaper” implementations have in creating sustainable, long-term change. In an era of city-led development, we explored ways in which locals can scale up change, from short-term experiments to a long-term transformation focused on place. From exploring local support systems that accommodate social needs throughout the year by adapting to varying seasons, as seen in the Cure(eos)city: Exploring Placemaking Through Seasonal Effective Design session, to considering how bottom-up activities are reformulating civic governance and municipal codes in four different American cities, as seen in the Tactical Urbanism to Strategic Change panel, it was clear that short-term experiments can indeed lead to long-term change across a city.

Place-led Development and Citymaking focused on "moving away from one-off projects towards deeper systemic change".

In conclusion, not only did Placemaking Week 2017 provide the City of Amsterdam with a wealth of ideas, experience, and connections to help take the movement forward, but the city itself certainly provided us with an experience we will never forget. We look forward to continuing to hear your stories and experiences from conference, and make sure to check out our recent blog post featuring some of the highlights you’ve already shared!

Curious what’s next for Placemaking Week? Stay tuned in early 2018, as PPS plans to announce a Call for Cities for hosting Placemaking Week 2019! And in the meantime, make sure to check out our other events, such as Walk/Bike/Places taking place in the Fall of 2018 in New Orleans.

Until then, we will always have Amsterdam.

CONFERENCE RESOURCES

Learn more about what happened at the conference: conference websiteschedule & speakers, and videos

Email info@placemakingweek.org to inquire about a specific presentation.