Good placemaking makes people identify with spaces; making them their own place where they can have a say and organically impact its growth as part of a community, says Constantina Avraamides
Battersea Power Station © Johnny Stephens Photography
Original article "People, Participation & Place"
By Constantina Avraamides, Part II Architectural Assistant at JTP
Published in the Summer 2019 Planning in London Journal
Always looking forward to the RIBA awards I was fascinated with last month’s winners. For me the stand-out scheme was Coal Drops Yard; the latest addition to the Kings Cross regeneration project, and already established as the new place to be. The history-rich space is designed to be open to the public, and much advertised throughout London. Large graphic signs are scattered along the path from the Kings Cross tube station boldly emphasising to the unaware passers-by “you have arrived”.
The project is nevertheless, another example of a pseudo-public place, another public ‘island’ with its own set of rules. Being a regular visitor for a while now, I was enthusiastic at first with all the independent shops and restaurants housed in Coal Drops Yard. Following a recent Friday night dinner however, I was disappointed by the “curfew” of 11pm; a kind reminder that we were encroaching on a private place. Is this the future for open space in our cities and what are the key ingredients to making these successful?
Battersea Power Station 'We Love Cheese' Festival © Richard Hanson / Hanson Images
Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPs) began to increase through the 2000s around the UK and especially in the capital with More London estate near Tower Bridge and Merchant Square in Paddington. POPs have been greatly debated over the last years for being publicly accessible spaces, yet with specified constraints on their use, due to the fact that they are delivered and maintained by private bodies. Despite the democratic discussions they raise with regards to freedom of use, POPs have proven to be successful in providing safe public spaces throughout the city, and in some cases stimulating street based retail. However, they usually lack the kind of intense energy that comes with the unpredicted use and inhabitation by people of public spaces.
The Kings Cross regeneration appears to be different to other projects in the capital, in terms of its success and acceptance with people. I would argue that it all comes down to a successful curated placemaking by the King’s Cross Central Limited Partnership, who own and manage the development. A series of events are strategically orchestrated, in and around the spaces of Coal Drops Yard and Granary Square; consistently drawing in people. I would debate that creating a sought after place is not defined by whether it is public or private, but about the ground level uses and form of each space that defines successful placemaking. The benefits of space management and curation are brought together with a feeling of authenticity.
I’m happy to have witnessed similar success in one of JTP’s on-going projects; the Battersea Power Station development. Since 2006, we’ve instigated and managed a broad strategic placemaking approach, with the vision captured in our Battersea ‘Placebook’. The Placebook sets out 8 manifestos based on why people will want to live and visit Battersea, and 60 points for their delivery ensuring the original vision is consistent for the lifetime of the project’s delivery and its future use.
The unique mix of restaurants and shops relates back to the first manifesto of the Placebook; “No default” has now become Never Ordinary. This aspiration to provide a different offer reveals itself not only in the types of shops occupying the retail front but also how locals can use them, what products to stock and sell and even what types of events they should have. The Battersea Power Station development has a liveliness, or perhaps a freedom that demonstrates a happy union between the vision for the place and its inhabitation by residents and locals alike.
Good placemaking makes people identify with spaces; making them their own place, where they can have a say and organically impact its growth as a part of a community. Ultimately, I think this is what we want from our public spaces; a feeling of personal and collective engagement with the world around us.