There’s an entire school of thought that believes the people who use public spaces — as opposed to experts — know the most about them. Or, as the Project for Public Spaces (PPS) recently put it:
Placemaking tosses out the idea that an architect or planner is more of an expert about how a place should be used than the people who are going to use it. By bringing people together around a shared physical place, it’s also a powerful tool for disrupting local complacency. Great public spaces give people a tangible way to connect with their neighborhoods, building a stronger local constituency–aka sense of community–over the long term.
PPS then goes on to give “7 Ways to Disrupt Your Public Space.” The idea is to give average people the skills, motivation, and mindset to make the public spaces in their neighborhoods better.
I’ll let you click over to the PPS post to read all seven points on the list, but I would like to highlight a few particularly applicable ideas here:
If there’s a place in your neighborhood that seems forlorn or forgotten, there are probably just a few key things about it that don’t work for the people who live nearby.
Ask yourself: “How might this community want to use this space, and what’s the most efficient, immediate way to make that possible?”
No one organization or individual can create a strong sense of place for a neighborhood; either people work together do what’s best for the community, or you lose any sense of civic life.
What I really like about these points is the idea that we can all make a difference. When I walk around my neighborhood and see empty parks, neglected benches or just forlorn sidewalks, it’s discouraging. But when I read things like this, I’m persuaded that people can make a difference.