By Amanda Kannard, P.U.M.A. Associate
In the planning profession, ‘placemaking’ has become a ubiquitous term used to describe small-scale physical and programmatic improvements to the public realm. Not only is it taught almost religiously in planning schools, the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) seems to uphold it as a paragon for creative, tactical, community-based planning. But not all communities think of ‘placemaking’ in a positive light. To some, ‘placemaking’ implies there was not a “place” there beforehand. And while we may not intend it this way, using language like this can be particularly harmful and triggering to communities who have experienced displacement or gentrification firsthand as a direct or indirect result of ‘placemaking.’ While we use ‘placemaking’ to describe improvements to places, we are not fully grasping the experience that these ‘improvements’ are creating for the communities they are impacting.
As planners, we need to constantly be listening, understanding, evolving, and improving not only the language we use, but what our ‘best practices’ in the profession are. The lasting impacts, both positive and negative, that our words and actions have on communities should not be taken lightly, and being cognizant of this responsibility should be a staple of our planning process. Instead of “placemaking,” we should consider using terms like “place enhancing,” “place keeping,” or “place nurturing.” While I believe that words like ‘placemaking’ are not ill-intended, but rather a widely understood and accepted way to describe this piece of what planners do, it is essential that we understand the impacts that planning language can have on the communities we are planning with and for.