The Observatory

Dec 2020

The Basics Of Placemaking

The term ‘placemaking’ is used in different contexts across a range of industries, which is part of the reason it’s difficult to get a solid understanding of what it actually means.

But understanding exactly what placemaking is, what turning a space into a place looks like, and how it all applies to your business can be a huge benefit. Effective placemaking can transform boring spaces into attractive destinations, creating places that are desirable and, above all, relevant.

Before you can master a concept, you need to understand the fundamentals, so let’s get down to basics, starting with the simplest question I can think of.

What is placemaking?

To put it simply, placemaking is a process through which places that people want to live or work in are created. It’s a process because it involves several steps. To create a place out of a space means considering many different variables – from design to service, location to branding. The result of a successful placemaking project is a cohesive, unified, and satisfying place.

Using an analogy to help explain – placemaking is the difference between a house and a home. In the same way that a homemaker goes through a process that turns what is essentially four walls and a roof into a place where a family can live happily, a placemaker turns an unoptimised public or commercial space into a place that people want to spend their time in.

The term ‘placemaking’ is probably used most in the public space redevelopment sector, and you’ll have heard of (or even visited) some iconic sites that have benefitted from large scale placemaking. King’s Cross in London, for example, underwent a massive phase of redevelopment resulting in 50 new buildings, 10 new public parks and squares, and 1900 new homes.

But despite the fact that placemaking is best known through public projects, roughly the same principles can be used (and the same positive effects achieved) in basically any space. From office property to education institutions, retail stores to museums, there’s no space that can’t be made into a place by following the right steps.  

Why should you care about placemaking?

So, with all that said, why should you care? You might be wondering what’s actually on offer as a result of placemaking – what tangible benefit you’ll get from going through the process. Well there’s no one answer to that, but there are a range of benefits you can expect, depending on what role your property plays.

The most obvious benefit of placemaking is that you create a place that people want to spend their time in. If you’re placemaking a shop, that means more return customers, if you’re working on improving an office space, it means lower churn rates, and so on.

Outside of making the experience of your place better for people who already visit, though, placemaking can have massive benefits on word of mouth marketing. By creating an experience that’s exciting and relevant to customer or user needs, you increase the likelihood of someone telling their friend or colleague about you. Organic word of mouth marketing like this is important in building a pipeline of interest and can lead to exponential growth.

A location that has been through the placemaking process to become more relevant to its surroundings and the wider market will also benefit from better brand perception from an outside perspective. Creating a strong sense of place is an activity that crosses many channels, and the cohesive brand image that results will make a strong first impression on passers-by and potential future customers.

How to go about placemaking

There are plenty of small steps you can take by yourself to start transforming your space into a more exciting and relevant place. From starting to build links in your local community to re-working internal processes, re-fitting your interior and exteriors to making your marketing more authentic, every action you take to better target customer or user needs is a positive one.

With that said, the biggest wins come from tackling the entire placemaking process in one fell swoop. By rolling out a placemaking project in its entirety, addressing every element of your space at once, you can see the most dramatic transformation. This is also the best way to ensure that the resulting product is cohesive.

However, rolling out a complete redesign of the way your place works and fits together is undeniably challenging, especially when you try it by yourself. That’s why working with experts, like myself and the rest of The Placemakers, is advised. And remember, investing in placemaking your location from the ground up might seem daunting, but the results often speak for themselves.


This is a post by Zoe Ellis-Moore – a member of The Placemakers, owner of Spaces to Places, and an expert in the flexible workspace sector.