Placemaking: Putting a Creative Stamp on Your Neighbourhood

Submitted by Kristine Culp on April 12, 2017 - 8:27am
Some unique touches are enlivening places in Kitchener, Ontario

A pollinator garden beside a recreational trail. A gaga ball court in a suburban neighbourhood.
An “enchanted forest” for kids to explore in a city park. 

These are examples of “placemaking” in Kitchener, Ontario, and they’re something the city hopes to encourage through ts new neighbourhood strategy, Love My Hood: Kitchener’s Guide to Great Neighbourhoods.

Placemaking is catching on in cities worldwide as a way for people to express what’s unique about their neighbourhoods and have more interaction with each other.

“What I like about placemaking is that creative piece of it,” says Darren Kropf, a neighbourhood development associate with the City of Kitchener. He and his colleague Michelle Drake, a heritage planner and project manager of the strategy, presented Love My Hood to municipal peers across Canada during a recent Tamarack webinar.

Love My Hood has three pillars: Great Places, Connected People, and Working Together. In a follow-up conversation, Darren explained more about Great Places and how neighbours are putting their personal touch on local spaces. Placemaking is emerging in in ways like these: 

  • In the suburban Doon Pioneer Park neighbourhood, a group of homeowners installed a gaga ball court on their cul-de-sac, making use of what would otherwise be an empty piece of grass. The installation is temporary, easily removed when not in use, and is a good example of how placemaking doesn’t have to involve big or complicated installations, Darren said.
  • On the Iron Horse Trail, a popular recreational and active transportation route, residents installed raised beds of plant species that attract bees and other pollinator insects. They also developed signage to explain how the plants address a declining bee population. “People stop and read, and it starts conversations,” Darren said. “It gets people thinking about the trail in a different way.” 
  • In an under-used wooded area of
    Shantz Park, residents cleaned up trash and created an enchanted forest by adding streamers, trinkets, and fairy doors (little hidden doors that suggest you’re entering an imaginary world). Kids now have fun exploring for fairy doors, and anyone can sit for a while and use the area as a reflective space, Darren said.

To encourage more Great Places, the city has developed a guide for residents, and will host an annual placemaking challenge to bring ideas to life. It will also cut red tape so citizens can lead the way on simple improvements to public places such as traffic calming, tree planting, or painting wall murals.

Want to learn more about placemaking? Register for Tamarack’s Neighbourhoods: The Heart of Community event in Montreal from June 6-8, which will feature placemaking along with topics like community resilience and local connectedness, as well as neighbourhood walkabouts.

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