Webinar review: Placemaking – overvalued buzzword or under-utilised pursuit?

In the latest IHM Urban Living webinar, editor-in-chief George Sell hosted a discussion on “Placemaking – overvalued buzzword or under-utilised pursuit? 

The webinar was one of a regular series hosted in the run up to URBAN LIVING FESTIVAL 2020: stay-live-work, which takes place on 25-26 November at Tobacco Dock in London.

Joining Sell in the discussion were Eliza Liepina, head of product and business development in alternative accommodations at Round Hill Capital, Francesca Howland, co-founder of Bimble, Michael Goldin, director of business development at NoiseAware, and Peter Heule, CEO of Short Stay Group.

The discussion centred around how placemaking encourages footfall and social interaction, aligning your offering based on community demand, how to personify your community and create greater value, design and planning considerations, and the resource required and ROI that placemaking delivers.

On the subject of what makes “successful” placemaking, Liepina began by stating that it is synonymous with places which are “truly mixed use space, multi-disciplinary, authentic and aesthetically beautiful”, creating a sense of place among its residents. She added that millennials are a key demographic driving placemaking as a concept, as they are becoming more aware of creating a lifestyle and experience around them.

Goldin concurred, albeit expanded by saying that placemaking is about designing “with intention”, whereby each place takes on its own identity and therefore builds inherent trust with its local communities.

Planners themselves need to put placemaking at the forefront of their minds and be open to discussion and manage social and commercial ambitions to ensure the concept is not just a buzzword, in Heule’s words. Meanwhile, Howland focused on how planners should bring elements together to give people a connection with a place and want to share their experiences in it, citing Amsterdam as a key example in Europe.

As the discussion moved on to earning a return on investment [ROI] on placemaking activities, Liepina quoted a report from Savills, which highlighted how the value of placemaking was starting to become understood by authorities and councils, especially when they can see jobs can be created from it. One of the main takeaways from the report was that new developments with placemaking in line with their historic city centres earned between 18 and 45 per cent higher value than standard developments with no placemaking, underlining how effective placemaking concepts can be “true ecosystems”.

For Heule, whose company Short Stay Group’s slogan is “unlock the neighbourhood”, good developers and institutional investors should be ahead of the game and come up with solutions to new neighbourhoods, as well as provide such areas with the necessary amenities and facilities to thrive in the present and in 20-30 years’ time.

This tallied with Howland’s thoughts on millennials, as she shared her observations on how the demographic was moving away from recognisable chains to more independent businesses when they visited a new place, highlighting how travellers are now seeking the most authentic and local experiences possible.

Likewise, Goldin noted the importance of knowing who you are building communities for.

This is particularly pertinent when designing flexible rental space, as it involves planning for short-term travellers and long-term tenants, as well as ensuring you are not disturbing the rest of your community. By planning effectively in advance, it will encourage all types of people to spend more time and money in your area.

In addition, an ideal way to increase ROI is to decrease turnover and vacancy, which in turn breeds happiness in guests, neighbours and communities. Happy communities ultimately help to drive prices up at the same time as supply declines.

Following that, the panel were asked whether they could think of any cities which had a particularly good approach to placemaking.

First up, Heule quoted Amsterdam as an example where planners are engaged with the stake holding agenda, as the Dutch city creates certain plots for private individuals to create their own house.

Liepina’s thoughts turned to London in the way it embodies a set of diverse neighbourhoods with their own feeling and sense of belonging. In post-Covid times, she believes that tenants will commute less and spend more time at home, giving them the opportunity to spend more money with local businesses that they would otherwise have done in city centres that they are unconnected with.

In contrast, Goldin said that urban locations should “take a book out of resort towns” in terms of providing a sense of community for all of the people that live there. When a traveller sees that the locals feel a sense of belonging to their home, they too begin to feel a connection and feel inclined to engage with the community for a more authentic experience.

To conclude, the panellists were asked to describe different examples of placemaking which had been successful in their opinion and to give the reasons for their choices:

  • Heule: Amsterdam Noord, where offices, food and beverage outlets and skate parks are located in the middle of residential blocks. While it may seem out of sync with the rest of the city, Heule said the planners involved wanted to create a “global” place rather than a “Dutch” place, which made people warm to it in time.
  • Howland: East London, where independent businesses and outdoor communities are thriving, rents are “still affordable”, and entrepreneurs are coming out of it, helping it to “outperform” more well known areas such as Notting Hill.
  • Liepina: Berlin [Kreuzberg], where there is a myriad of legislation to ensure it remains a diverse, entrepreneurial community where people can afford to live and work. Equally, Dumbo in Brooklyn is an prime example of good placemaking because it attracts the highest rents per square foot in residential of any neighbourhood in New York, including Manhattan.
  • Goldin: A Colorado-based company called Daydream, which is fully embracing the flexible living style and taking it a few steps further by curating its own events and adding shops.

To view the full recording of the webinar, visit the link here.

Sign up for the next webinar this Wednesday 2 September on Flex rentals: investing in innovation at the meeting link here.