Thoughts On Placemaking, Culture And Nature

Publika, a project done in collaboration with architects LabDNA, taps into the creative vibes of residents and visitors (Image from UEM Sunrise Bhd)

Just when the concept of ‘placemaking’ is gaining traction in Malaysia, I read an article by Dean Saitta, professor of anthropology and director of the Urban Studies programme at the University of Denver, which claimed that placemaking has become a cliché [1].

To illustrate his claim, he tells of four global planning and design firms that had been shortlisted by the university’s administration to improve physical and social connections between the campus and the neighbourhood, where a four-lane road divided the two communities.

The four firms, described by the administration as “some of the greatest urban design thinkers on the planet”, were invited to present their solutions to the problem. However, Saitta asserted that he saw little difference in the four presentations—even the same language was used: “mixed use”, “catalytic activity”, “vibrant streetscapes”, “live/work/play” and the importance of “creating an experience”, not to mention solutions such as food trucks, pocket parks, etc.

Sounds familiar? Design firms, sometimes encouraged by developers, embrace placemaking because it is in-trend, but clearly focused only on creating ‘feel good’ places. Saitta regretted that none of the four global firms emphasised the plurality of the community, as well as their lack of commitment to multiculturalism, especially in a neighbourhood that is culturally diverse.

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