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Arthur - St JohnArthur the Author hard at work in St. John’s, New Brunswick, Canada
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by W. Arthur Mehrhoff
Back in the day (1980) when I worked in downtown planning for the Saint Louis Community Development Agency, I had the opportunity to collaborate with the urban design organization Project for Public Spaces on a major downtown pedestrian improvement project. Project for Public Spaces was inspired by the celebrated William H. Whyte, author of The Organization Man but most noted for his research about what made downtowns lively places to be. His placemaking efforts continue to inspire many.
Whyte and Project for Public Spaces both emphasized carefully observing and even participating in the places themselves in order to understand what people really need and want in them. For example, Whyte termed triangulation a special view, object, or event like the above statue that encourages strangers to interact (creating a triangle of conversation involving the external factor) and strengthens sense of place. Using extensive first-hand observations and time-lapse photography of critical downtown intersections, we were able to make well-researched urban design recommendations that resulted in a successful $500,000 Department of Transportation grant to the city.
Lesson learned: It pays to pay attention to how people actually use places. That fundamental lesson in placemaking has served me very well over the decades and continues to pay dividends. One such dividend was recently being selected to Project for Public Spaces’ Leadership Advisory Council, a network of placemakers from all over the world. One of the first Council projects has been to compile a comprehensive guide to placemaking resources. In the near future (stay tuned to this blog!), I hope to offer readers like you plenty of practical guidance and resources for your own placemaking efforts right here in Your Town, Missouri. You can read and reflect on them while you are sitting around people-watching and placemaking.
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