05 Placemaking: Creating spaces that work for everyone

By Tara Crean, Media Consultant and Sian Disson, Media Consultant

The last time you walked through Leicester Square, took a photo next to the ‘I amsterdam’ sign at Schiphol Airport, or visited a shopping precinct, you may not have been aware of just how much research, branding and design went into creating an inspiring space for people to enjoy.

Placemaking is about developing a connection between a space and the people who use it. It’s about defining an area and giving it a fresh identity, whether the goal is to draw in shoppers, jump-start economies, or address social care challenges.

This is something we’re seeing more and more with our clients at Red Setter, whether it’s the ‘unbranding’ of Camden Market by Ragged Edge that speaks to both the Snapchat generation and the area’s anarchic history, or the ‘inner-directed’ brand identity for Barts Square, a boutique residential development near The City, by me&dave.

It was also the subject of the latest YCN Talking Shop, held at retail property developer Hammerson’s King’s Cross HQ. It was the ideal venue choice – Hammerson moved from a swanky Mayfair location just a couple of years ago to what had for decades been an industrial wasteland. Today you can hardly move for cool apartments, shops, offices, bars and restaurants. It’s even got a shiny new postcode – NC1.

Three speakers outlined their own takes on placemaking: Robin Dobson, Hammerson’s Development Director; Ryan Tym, Founder of branding agency Lantern; and Morag Myerscough, Founder of Studio Myerscough.

The needs of physical space are changing

Seismic shifts in the retail and leisure landscape over the past 40-50 years have forced developers to reconsider their approach to large-scale commercial projects. Where once the storefront was king, over time – and with the rise and fall of catalogue shopping, swiftly followed by the proliferation of online retailers – physical space has taken on an alternative purpose.

According to Robin Dobson, shoppers increasingly see retail spaces as an opportunity for ‘showrooming’ or ‘webrooming’ – using a physical shop to see and feel a product before buying it online later, probably at a lower price.

Apparently, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It simply means that physical spaces have to work even harder to draw in footfall. Hammerson has found that a blend of great architecture, strong retail outlets, convenience and ease of access, an interactive and engaging programme of events, plus a sustainable agenda, is a winning formula for successful developments.

As Robin concluded, get the physical space right and the online sales will follow. Success in new terms.

Embrace the truth

It’s one thing to craft an identity for a brand-new development but the greater challenges often come when creating a new sense of place for an existing community. Ryan Tym built his agency on the mantra ‘embrace the truth’, encouraging his clients not to shy away from widespread perceptions of brands or places, regardless of how negative they may seem.

The key, he said, is to talk to people to gain those first-hand accounts and impressions, either face-to-face or online via review websites such as Trip Advisor and Mumsnet. Only once you understand the perception of a place can you address it and find what makes that space unique.

Take Lantern’s work for a council estate in Newington, Kent. One of the least-funded and most forgotten places in the country, this residential estate was guided by a self-appointed council with a budget of £1 million to spend over the next decade. A call to action and network for ideas sharing was needed.

Far from glossing over the negative perceptions of ‘estates’, Lantern turned the term on its head to celebrate an ‘Estate of Enablers’, delivered with bold graphics that captured the energy and spirit of the development, printed in black and white on coloured card to keep costs low.

Whilst driving a development forward is key, all three speakers agreed on the importance of drawing from what’s already there so as not to alienate an existing loyal community base.

People are resistant to change

And it’s this sense of community that guides the work of placemaking and wayfinding expert Morag Myerscough. By engaging with residents – and often children – through pattern and word workshops, she drills down to what makes places special and uses original artworks created by the public to adorn them.

Whether bringing divided communities together in a temporary pavilion full of open doors at the Steirischer Herbst Festival in Graz or injecting a shot of colour and harlequin prints into the wards of Sheffield Children’s Hospital, making people feel part of the change is always intrinsic.

As Morag asserts, people simply don’t like change, so you have to take them on the journey with you.

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