Thursday, November 23, 2017

Pop-up placemaking - activating spaces with locals

SafeGrowth's Brad Vassallo demonstrating how to create pop-up placemaking
near Penn Station, New York
by Greg Saville

We are frequently asked in our seminars how to activate unsafe places with fun, lively and safe activities. In CPTED the generic term used for this is called ‘activity generation’, but that term hardly describes it nor what works in one place over another. For years our SafeGrowth programs have turned to urban placemaking for answers.

Placemaking began, some claim, with the 1970s research of William H. Whyte, especially his book The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces.

It was Whyte who inspired the development of New York’s PPS - the Project for Public Spaces - still an active placemaking group today. A few years ago we worked alongside PPS in New Jersey and found placemaking directly relevant to CPTED, particularly 2nd Generation CPTED.

More recently our friends at Portland’s City Repair movement have been an inspiration. Members of City Repair attended our first SafeGrowth Summit two years ago and we often feature their guerrilla architecture on this blog.


This week we conducted training for community leaders in New York. SafeGrowth Advocate Brad Vassallo joined our training team and ran a terrific session during our training called POP-up placemaking, which is the process of directly engaging local residents and passers-by at a public spot where place activation may help.

Once one team started unpacking supplies, dozens of passers-by began joining with
their POP-up theme, What are you thankful for?

The public quickly contributed comments both candid and profound

POP-up placemaking has the advantage of requiring few funds and simple planning. Because it will not last long, it may have only short-term impact. However, a regular program of POP-ups may well provide a planner or community practitioner a great tactic to engage locals in a fun and easy way to start the long process of building relationships and reducing fear.

On the streets outside Penn Station in New York, our 4 teams spoke to dozens of New Yorkers, enticed them to use simple materials (blue interlocking rubber tiles, tape, chalk, colored string), and construct some simple and fun placemaking activities. Within minutes people stopped to participate, write, dance, talk, laugh, and co-create spaces around a bus stop, a subway stairway entrance, and along a public wall.

It took less than 30 minutes to complete the entire activity using about $100 of material. Obviously, space activation need not be complicated, expensive, or permanent. In a class exercise, this was simple enough. In a real-life community project, this can launch a transformation. 

One team discovered the simple act of taking out the material and starting to build
was enough to attract passers-by to stop and begin chatting

2 Replies so far - Add your comment

Mateja Mihinjac said...

Having witnessed the power of pop-up placemaking by the three teams I was amazed at how quickly the passers-by get engaged in such ad-hoc activities. This was especially powerful in such a busy city where people are believed to only mind their own business. It was obvious that people actually want to get engaged and the teams did an amazing job in facilitating their participation.

GSaville said...

True! And we know how the same experience shows up in other cities with equal enthusiasm - Philadelphia, Toronto, San Francisco, London, and smaller centres as well. Encouraging POP-up culture to humanize and make places fun... How simple.