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Good place making

Lucy Buzacott shares some of the findings of her research into the value of local place-making for stronger communities…

Place-making is the reanimation of spaces and communities through artistic and cultural activities and place-making projects aim to cultivate cultural and community development. My research into place-making initiatives sought to identify a list of key success factors for place-making initiatives. The results of the research process reinforced that successful place-making initiatives place the community at the heart of the process.

My research involved a review of a variety of place-making initiatives throughout the world, including Animating Spaces (Queensland), Creative Capricorn (Queensland), Renew Newcastle (New South Wales), Re:Start Christchurch, and the European Capital of Culture program.

In each case, place-making activities were undertaken to rejuvenate spaces and instigate cultural and artistic engagement by the local community. One of the most successful place-making projects in Australia is the Renew Newcastle initiative which was founded to help solve the problem of Newcastle’s empty CBD by finding artists, cultural projects and community groups to use and maintain vacant buildings.

The success of the Renew model is its engagement with a wide variety of industries and sectors of the community for mutual benefit, including artists, creatives and business and community leaders. This makes often disparate sectors of the community into shared stakeholders in the program and supporters of its success.

The research process also included consultation with professionals involved in place-making research and activities and initiatives, as well as feedback provided by community members and other stakeholders, through interviews and feedback on the Arts Queensland blog post “How can arts and culture make a place?” Feedback provided on the blog drew my attention to successful projects occurring in Toowoomba, the Gold Coast and in Brisbane City. Professor Noel Scott also provided invaluable feedback on the importance of how a place should “feel” suggesting that: “Going forward places need to become more experiential: encouraging social interaction, immersive, co-creative, and meaningful using symbols.”

Taking into account the recommendations of prior research as well as expert organisations and individuals, as well as feedback from the community, my project identified the following success factors for place-making initiatives:

  • Activities that are community driven and owned
  • Spaces and cultural activities that are reflective of community strengths and goals
  • Strong partnerships and collaboration between Government, community leaders, business leaders, and gatekeepers of the community
  • Thorough preparation and planning
  • Clearly defined initiatives with clear goals and expectations

The main theme that emerged from the research and consultation undertaken is the need for strong community engagement in successful place-making activities.

The most successful initiatives (re)engaged spaces selected by the community themselves. Furthermore, the artistic and cultural activities undertaken in relation to these spaces also needed to be selected though community consultation and engagement.

Place-making activities were most successful when their activities and outcomes reflected the strengths and goals of the community itself. Place-making projects should be reflective of the community’s self-identified interest areas and cultural strengths.

The research process also revealed that strong and effective partnerships are essential to the success of place-making initiatives. Necessary partnerships include government, arts workers, artists, businesses and community leaders. These partnerships can be developed and nurtured by a thorough planning and preparation process in the development and implementation of these community based artistic activities.

From the outset, new place-making initiatives need to have a clear outline and a definition of how the program will work and what its goals are. This includes clarity around definitions, expectations of who will be involved, intended audiences, and desired outcomes. Obviously, this process needs to be undertaken in consideration of the other success factors identified, that is, with a keen understanding of the particular community’s strengths and goals. Place-making initiatives therefore need to strike a balance between having a clear definition of the program’s shape and desired outcomes and the flexibility essential to community-led projects.

Ultimately, place-making initiatives have the ability to transform communities through cultural, economic, recreational and social activities. Successful place-making activities require thorough preparation and planning, a clear vision, a focus on successful collaboration and, most importantly, a strong focus on the community’s strengths, interests, and needs. Place-making projects can resultantly create cultural and community development and artistic and cultural engagement and revitalise communities through arts and culture.

Lucy Buzacott
Lucy Buzacott is a PhD student at the University of Queensland in the School of English, Media Studies, and Art History. Her thesis considers race and gender in the American South through representations of mammy and belle figures in the novels of William Faulkner.





Feature image:  Full Tilt Film Festival, July 2014, Rockhampton.  Photo courtesy of Creative Capricorn.