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Most of my work in cultural planning has operated at a ‘macro level’ of community or city-wide plans. While this will continue to be a focus of my work, I am increasingly intrigued by the application of many of the same principles and methodologies of cultural planning at the level of neighbourhoods and districts. Coming from an urban planning background, the idea of placemaking as an approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces is not new. In this context, placemaking is focused on improvements to the public realm through interventions including landscaping, urban design, public art, among others.

Creative placemaking embodies many of these ideas but with a higher cultural ‘quotient.’ Like cultural planning, creative placemaking combines the goals and methods of community development, cultural development and economic development with a place-based and asset-based orientation. Evidence has demonstrated that creative placemaking has resulted in a wide range of positive outcomes including job creation, strengthening networks, building social capital and community capacity, among others. Success requires the engagement of both local government (with its resources and planning tools) and community members through robust community engagement processes.

In Canada, Artscape is a Toronto-based not-for-profit organization that has developed an international reputation for its work in city building through the arts and culture-led regeneration. Seven or eight years ago the organization was searching for fresh language to describe their work and articulated the idea of creative placemaking.

Artscape’s best know success story is the Distillery District in Toronto. More than a decade after its demise as a distillery, private developers purchased the former Gooderham & Worts Distillery in late 2001.  Artscape assisted in working with the new owners to negotiate a 20-year lease, initially for just two buildings, on this World Heritage Site comprised of a total of 47 buildings.   Today some 40 of the buildings on the site have been developed for a range of tenants including creative enterprises, retail, restaurants and bars and the nationally-renowned Soulpepper Theatre Company.  Artscape has led a series of other award winning projects including Wychwood Barns and most recently the Regent Park Art and Culture Centre.

These have been ambitious, large-scale projects involving significant capital investments in new facilities and infrastructure. But not all creative placemaking efforts are implemented on this scale or involving significant new capital investments. In the United States, many inspiring examples of creative placemaking have been undertaken, many in some of the country’s most challenged cities and neighbourhoods. Creative Placeamaking is a comprehensive report commissioned by the National Endowment for the Arts summarizing much of this experience.

One inspiring example of creative placemaking has focused on the re-invention of Minneapolis’ oldest street Hennepin Avenue. The vision for the Avenue is as a walkable and unified cultural corridor. The community engagement process invited residents to participate in a cultural mapping process to identify a wide range of cultural resources in the corridor. It also invited them to envision all dimensions of a revitalized Hennepin Avenue – its sights, sounds, even its smells! The project was a partnership between the City and several of the city’s leading cultural institutions and agencies.

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