Last week I had the opportunity to join local and international placemaking pioneers at the San Francisco Placemaking Summit to obtain best practices for ways San Francisco Beautiful can further engage neighborhood stakeholders on beautification projects.
So, what does “Placemaking” mean? While many definitions exist, our work and efforts here at San Francisco Beautiful are best encapsulated by Placemaking Chicago’s definition:
“Placemaking is a people-centered approach to planning, design and management of public spaces. It involves looking at, listening to, and asking questions of the people who live, work and play in a particular public space, to discover needs and aspirations.”
Aaron Hyland (Placemaking SF) and the American Institute of Architects-San Francisco Chapter were instrumental in bringing a robust audience to this thought provoking event, including three panels and eighteen panelists from all over the world with conversations largely focused on the importance of inclusive, transparent community engagement and political and private support.
Over years, San Francisco Beautiful has gained an acute understanding on the importance of community consensus and facilitation of a transparent process to identify and prioritize the needs of the community. This in turn gradually builds trust. During the conference two panelists, San Francisco District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener and Department of Planning Director John Rahaim, encouraged participants to create open and transparent models for engaging project constituents.
San Francisco Beautiful recently coordinated the Pause, Play, Connect initiative at UN Plaza and implemented the aforementioned paradigm, where project design was led by residents and local merchants who, in addition to partners MJM Management and Neighborland, we were able to create a palette of programming activities that the neighbors around UN Plaza helped prioritize through a voting process. An overwhelming support from the community for activation resulted in directing city funds to create a series of programming.
Between grants from City agencies like the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, the Community Challenge Grant program and leveraging private investments and add backs from Supervisors, San Francisco Beautiful has been able to direct revenue to placemaking on commercial corridors. This is impossible to achieve without progressively building positive relationships and showing long-term commitment to placemaking.
While community support is most important, successful placemaking leverages political and private support to create sustainable long-term programs. Being an advocacy non-profit, we are constantly looking for ways to push the boundaries to further awareness and creation of active places. We have advocated and helped create programs like the Pavement to Parks that reclaim underutilized spaces in the public realm by create vibrant, beautiful gathering spaces. We extensively advocated passing Plaza Program legislation that incentivizes activities in public spaces and making permitting process simpler.
To engage private partnerships such as banks and real estate companies on citywide initiatives, panelist Peter Smith, CEO of Adelaide City Council created Splash Adelaide, which is having a very visible impact on the public realm and peoples’ perception of how it can be shaped. The Splash initiative also seeks to integrate Placemaking into governance by piloting “Place Capital” metrics and “place audits” to track the success of holistic outcomes and integrate responsibility for Placemaking with communities. The long-term goal is to shift more place governance capacity, and responsibility, to the district level, and make citywide government leaner in the process.
As the conversations moved to individual experiences, I realized that our recent efforts at San Francisco Beautiful are on the right path and hold values crucial to successful placemaking in San Francisco’s neighborhoods by conversing and engaging with a myriad of stakeholders who provide input on how we can bring attractive and lively places to their communities.
To learn more about our Placemaking Program, click here.