Just five years ago, an agent advising a developer to root their scheme in “placemaking” would have been met with a blank expression. Indeed, as a new concept it was difficult enough to explain. Now everyone understands the potential and benefits, from the public sector and communities to the hardest-nosed developers.
he best explanation I’ve heard yet, came in a chat this week with Willie Norse, Executive Director and Head of Client Advisory and Strategy at CBRE, who told me that it is creating places where people want to spend time.
Whereas, traditionally, the “open space” elements of commercial and residential schemes were often grass or concrete solutions for complying with requirements in the local development plan, now, creating places which attract people to them has become an imperative and placemaking now frequently leads the design of a scheme. These days, some architects and planners are positioning themselves as specialists in placemaking.
It’s a far cry from the days when local authorities were sometimes chasing developers for the last payments towards a bond, to guarantee that the roads, open spaces, and public lighting would actually be completed after the buildings on a scheme had been built. Now, the emphasis is on earlier master planning of overall developments, much more time and money is being expended “up-front”, and the open space and public elements are often completed before any buildings are occupied.
Mr Norse has taken a particular interest in placemaking as CBRE, in conjunction with the Urban Land Institute (ULI), recently launched the fourth ULI Excellence in Placemaking Awards, a competition open to organisations and communities creating better places in which to “live, work and play”. Any early developer client resistance has morphed from some apathy to now putting the concept at the “top of the agenda”, Mr Norse told me. “It is now an accepted requirement in the private and public sectors.”
Current examples of great placemaking we discussed included IPUT’s development of 60,000 square metres of new office buildings at Wilton Park, Dublin 2, with pre-lettings already in place to LinkedIn and Twitter. Wilton Park itself is being significantly upgraded by IPUT with new planting, pathways, art installations, and art events and coffee docks – thus creating a space which improves both the area and the appeal of the buildings to staff.
An excellent residential example, Willie Norse says, is the Cosgrave scheme, Cualanor, on the site of the old Dún Laoghaire golf course, which was the national placemaking winner last year. Here the developers first completed the open spaces, including a park, lake, playgrounds and walking trails, before finishing any of the buildings.
Creative uses of buildings also add to placemaking and an interesting retailing example is Hammerson’s creation of “The Pembroke District” at Dundrum Town Centre. A disused building was redesigned to address a new plaza with an extensive seating and play area, all helping to attract Donnybrook Fair as a tenant.
The pandemic-accelerated outdoor placemaking and the pedestrianisation and outdoor seating in the likes of Blackrock and Dún Laoghaire main streets as well as Merrion Row and Capel Street, have been partly or wholly retained.
Just as there is a green premium for offices, Mr Norse believes the best placemaking credentials will lead to a “rent premium”, shorter voids, and an increased attractiveness to institutional purchasers.