Social Data and Placemaking - How Placewashing could soon be a thing of the past.

Over the last few days placemakers across our city have come together to celebrate Melbourne Place Week. We’ve been to many engaging events across different communities, where practitioners have come together to share and celebrate their ideas. This growing movement of designers, urban strategists, property developers, community leaders and artists share the common goal of creating places that lead to positive outcomes for people.

There’s placemaking, and then there’s placewashing. The latter practise has some distinct characteristics - one dimensionality, inauthenticity and the adoption of external ideas over engagement of local leadership. To the untrained eye, placewashing seems a lot like placemaking, but definitely doesn’t stand to create long term solutions for communities and their spaces.

Nowadays, placemaking is the new black, but it’s not a practice that was always a popular concept. Where small interventions like putting swings in underutilised public spaces was once seen as a “law-suit waiting to happen”, cities and towns around the world are now actively investing in these spaces with more than just play equipment.

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Rating Place, current practice, why it is important and current limitations - Living Pavilion, Place Week VIC 2019 @StephanieMarks.

It’s hard to design a space that will not attract people. What is remarkable is how often this has been accomplished.
— William Whyte

How can Social Data support authentic placemaking?

The beauty of placemaking is that it is absolutely not a “one size fits all” concept. Placemaking offers us the opportunity to leverage the uniqueness of a place, the people, the traders, the space itself, and builds something engaging, vibrant and connected.

We can’t improve what we can’t measure, right? How do we evaluate pre, during and post intervention? What does success look like? What could we do better next time? What worked and what didn’t? The work that Neighbourlytics does offers another lens through which to measure placemaking from end to end. Social data can be leveraged in a number of ways to avoid placemaking mistakes and create places that thrive.

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Fawkner Food Bowls, community-led placemaking project in Melbourne, Australia created by CoDesign Studio through The Neighbourhood Project.

  • Identify what’s working before fixing what’s wrong

    Social data helps us understand what makes a neighbourhood unique, what people love and what its strengths are. By deep diving into what is working, we can look to better understand the intervention for next time. A good first step is to create a baseline measurement to identify what is happening pre-intervention.

  • Identify key local stakeholders and groups

    Local leaders are your best source for key information about what’s happening, their past involvement and how to build an authentic community led experience, but identifying them can be challenging. Social data helps to uncover local groups eg. in a recent study of Sydney, Neighbourlytics data highlighted a large number of active youth groups contributing to the neighbourhood by running events each week. The community development manager was unaware of this group because they weren’t using a venue or formal incorporation.


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Strathmore "Let's Make A Park" youth-led placemaking project run by CoDesign Studio through The Neighbourhood Project.

  • Understand what makes a place unique

    It’s easy to make assumptions about what people value and its identity from the outside, yet it’s locals that make places unique. A neighbourhoods digital footprint allows us to see it through local eyes, making it simple to understand what and where the heartbeat is.

  • Measure your change

During the intervention, social data can help track the success of the intervention by highlighting what people are saying. What do they love? What could they do without? Do they want more programming or less? This enables agility and a more community focused experience.

Post intervention, social data can give indications of the “after-glow” - that everlasting lasting impact. How has the intervention changed people’s behaviours? Have we achieved what we set out to accomplish? What is the lasting impact you’ve created?

Social data can help provide a new, informal and a completely user generated glimpse into what people are saying and loving about a placemaking intervention.

At the end of the day, that’s what we as placemakers, are here to do - create lasting impact, build stronger communities and leave the world looking and feeling more connected and positive.