Urban development


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Perspectives on urban development: The Placemaking and SymbioCity concepts

When urban spaces are designed with great care and from a human perspective, important synergies are achieved. Not only will they promote people’s well-being and social cohesion – holistic city planning also makes it easier to choose sustainable means of transport while counteracting urban sprawl, the unrestricted growth of urban communities over large areas.

There are different approaches to holistic urban planning, but all inevitably requires the involvement of citizens and other stakeholders, working across multiple disciplines.

The Sweco Urban Insight report "Urban Space for People on the Move – The Living City" introduces us to the Placemaking and SymbioCity concepts. Both are proven methods to support planners in sustainable urban development.


The Placemaking concept

The term placemaking is commonly used to describe the evolutionary and collaborative process of shaping urban environments to maximise shared value. It is an approach to urban planning that uses stakeholder ownership of the process and community participation to strengthen the connections between people and places. In some instances, the community may even take ownership of the space, or manage it as a community resource.

The concept of placemaking is not new. The thinking gained attention in the 1960s, when urban writer and activist Jane Jacobs introduced ideas about designing cities for people – not just for cars and shopping centres. The overarching idea of placemaking is to strengthen the connection between people and the places they share.

In addition to just promoting better urban design, placemaking facilitates creative patterns of use, paying attention to the physical, cultural and social identities that define a place and support its ongoing evolution.  To be successful, placemaking should be an intrinsically collaborative process between citizens, urban planners and engineers that shapes the city and results in better urban design.

With specific reference to the role of sustainable mobility, transportation infrastructures have been built through communities, rather than creating communities through transportation.

A useful reference tool – the "Place Diagram" – has been formulated by the New York-based Project for Public Spaces. It focuses on helping communities evaluate the places in which people live. The diagram is based on four basic qualities shared by public spaces perceived as attractive.

These spaces are accessible, people are engaged in activities there, the spaces are comfortable and have a good image, and they are sociable places where people meet each other and take people when they come to visit.

The qualities that make a successful place are varied, but can be characterised as being a combination, or preferably all, of the following:

  • Distinctive
  • Safe and pleasant
  • Welcoming
  • Adaptable
  • Resource-efficient
  • Easy to move around and beyond

Streets have the potential to be places, becoming destinations themselves rather than just a means of linking A to B in the shortest time or distance. The connectivity of streets to urban spaces can be enhanced by designing them principally for walking, cycling and public transport, concentrating development density around public transport hubs and managing car access.

Our cities are complex. The scarcity of space, its commercial value and the sheer density of activity can lead to conflict amongst stakeholders who often have, on the face of it, competing agendas. Ultimately, placemaking requires the active participation, engagement and support of the citizens who use the urban space. The search for authenticity is a goal for much modern urban regeneration, and a truly successful place is one that is multi-functional and attracts different user groups throughout the course of the day.

An inclusive approach to the design of places can generate pride in our cities and assist in addressing issues of social exclusion and anti-social behaviour.