• 01 02 2018

Smart Placemaking - A better way

Placemaking, as I’m sure many would agree, has become a bit of a buzzword. Whilst we’ve undoubtedly come a long way since the days when a placemaking strategy consisted of a little artwork in an under-used space, there is still some way to go. 

With the almost continuous parade of exciting new proptech innovations, it’s time the industry gave proper consideration to the reality that tech can, and will, reshape place as we know it.

Placemaking should no longer be considered an afterthought, something given credence only when a scheme has completed and the construction team long departed. The use of tech and data has moved the goal posts. Developers must now approach placemaking as an intrinsic part of any new scheme or project, considering the central role tech can play in connecting communities and using data to shape places where people want to live – smart placemaking.

Technology has changed people’s expectations; we expect everything to work perfectly, interacting seamlessly in a way that makes daily life easier, more straightforward – from the way we communicate with each other to the way devices interconnect inside and outside the home. But while tech brings many benefits, it should also serve a purpose or meet a need, and should never be introduced just for technology’s sake – a strategy that allows this defeats the purpose of creating a connected experience.

Smart placemaking takes these expectations into account to ensure that buildings, neighbourhoods, boroughs – and in the future, entire cities – are created in a way that facilitates connectivity in everything we do, its sophistication continually advancing. 

Crucially, a smart placemaking strategy must be introduced from a scheme’s very early stages, with a commitment to design thinking. A focus on exploring the processes and creative thinking that go into developing a new idea is essential. A commitment to design thinking is key to building better places; places where people can thrive. 

Smart placemaking and marketing should be collaborative, and take a joined-up approach where stereotypes and categorisation are banished in favour of a much more individual approach built on dialogue and conversation. By employing this thinking at the conception of a scheme, developers will create spaces and places that stand the test of time, building and sustaining communities as they grow and develop.

In the UK, developers are, generally speaking, behind the curve in terms of incorporating technology to facilitate and stimulate the creation of a real, genuine sense of place. Technology offers huge potential to connect separate buildings, people, districts – and future cities - with a hugely beneficial impact on individuals’ lives, sense of place, belonging and civic pride. However, while the benefits offered by technology are obvious, the most exciting opportunity for placemaking is the huge volume of data we now have at our fingertips and what it can tell us.

Tech and data – civic analytics - is now able to show us what people actually want from a place, from their neighbourhood, and how they interact with their surroundings. This offers enormous potential for the industry to be able to feed this information into the early-stage design process, the result being the creation of communities shaped around the needs and desires of those living and working there. Data can influence everything from the ethos of a neighbourhood, right through to the wayfinding within the area and the amenities and services on offer. Not to mention early-stage brand identity. 

Looking to the future is vital, making sure that the buildings, schemes and neighbourhoods that are coming out of the ground as we speak will stand the test of time – will they be popular in ten, twenty, fifty years? Is the space agile and flexible enough to incorporate new technology and processes, to accommodate new ways of living? Does it connect to its neighbours?

The key to this is collaboration between developers.

Smart placemaking cannot be achieved without developers working together. We must look beyond site boundaries and ownership to ensure that buildings and communities are connected. And when developing a new scheme, they must engage with local communities, future residents and the government, with all three parties equal shareholders in building a shared vision, constructed from the bottom up. 

Some will undoubtedly pour scorn onto this vision of a unified industry working together to create communities, neighbourhoods – and cities – where people want to live – but the proof will be in the pudding, and this early investment now will most certainly result in improved profits and financial reward for those developers willing to embrace smart placemaking, moving beyond coffee carts, free croissants and on-site yoga.