Placemaking: Are Colombo’s developers leveraging maximum impact for their projects?
October 12, 2017 – By Jones Lang
The term ‘placemaking’ came into common use during the 1970s, when architects and urban planners began describing the process of creating squares, plazas, streets and waterfronts to attract people, simply because they were pleasurable and interesting, although the concept originated in the 1960s, as a groundbreaking idea around designing cities that catered to people, rather than just cars and shopping centres.
Placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces, capitalising on local community assets, seeking inspiration and recognising potential to create public spaces that promote community health, happiness and wellbeing. The concept has rapidly evolved into both a process and a philosophy and, due to the nature of place identity, there is more often a political element to placemaking, best described by the early practitioner, Jan Gehl, who commented, ‘Public life in good quality public spaces is an important aspect of a democratic life and a full life’.
The existing challenges in Colombo
The visitor to Colombo might be forgiven for thinking that there is a lack of planned public open spaces, certainly in the central business districts of Colombo 1, 2 and 3, despite the more obvious examples of Vihara Maha Devi Park, Galle Face Green, Pettah Market, the environs of Beira lake and Dutch Hospital, but this viewpoint is reinforced by a general absence of café/street culture throughout the city, although the climate is favourable, and, perhaps, the first genuine example of a consciously designed street setting in Colombo, Park Street Mews, is proving popular with local residents and tourists alike.
The expanding middle classes in Colombo, the well documented migration of people from rural to urban areas, popular youth street culture and rising tourist numbers all present the mixed use developers, jockeying for position in Colombo’s crowded market, an excellent opportunity to differentiate their offering by incorporating placemaking into their project. Moreover, placemaking gives the developer the opportunity to interact with Municipality Authorities and the community at large to design vibrant centrepieces that add real value to master planned development schemes and a compelling proposition to potential investors.
Opportunities and benefits in the wider context
The creation and management of public open spaces has historically fallen to Municipal Authorities, but with the advent of large scale mixed use and master planned development projects in Colombo, notably Port City, Cinnamon Life, the John Keells mega project and Tata Housing’s One Colombo development, on Slave Island, the lines of responsibility become blurred, opening the way for public/private partnerships to promote community spaces and this also compliments the philosophy behind placemaking, as a group effort, requiring partners for political, financial and intellectual backing, if public space improvement programs are to get off the ground.
Moreover, placemaking requires a vision and cannot be the grand design of a single person, but is the aggregate conception of the entire community and is a fluid, ongoing process, that evolves and can rarely be considered as being completed. The principal considerations of placemaking include access and linking, ensuring that a successful public space is easy to get to and easy to get around.
In addition, perceptions of safety and cleanliness, come under the headings of comfort and image, while uses, activities and sociability, provide for meeting places that encourage friendly social interaction and engender community pride. If private developers and Municipal Authorities collaborate hand in hand, over the development period of these mixed use projects, which include residential, commercial, retail and hospitality components, to create dynamic public spaces that humanise the built environment and re configure the sheer dimensions involved, focusing on a more human, street level experience, there are proven benefits to all stakeholders, driving sales and leasing activity for developers, attracting retailers and food and beverage outlets, facilitating a vibrant start up environment and providing a community asset of tangible value that should seamlessly be incorporated in to a sustainable urban landscape.
As the development and urbanisation of Colombo continues, sustainability is ever more in focus if quality of life is to be maintained and developers need to embrace the concept of placemaking to support urban renewal/gentrification, mindful that placemaking is a dynamic human function; it is an act of liberation, of staking claim, and of beautification; it is true human empowerment.