‘Where do you live?’ Almost certainly the most common question we ask when meeting new people. Place, and where we are from, go to the heart of our identity. They can be a way to find common ground but equally, a way to highlight differences.
When it comes to placemaking strategies, it’s vital to understand the peculiarities of an area and the people that live there because place and identity are two sides of the same coin.
Attitudes and behaviours differ regionally, between towns and cities and even villages. Of course they do. Look long enough and you’ll see every place has its own identity.
Regenerating an area can be emotive stuff precisely because we feel such a tie to areas. A protectionist view or suspicion of outside influence is understandable.
But it’s important to remember there’s always more that unites than separates. When thinking about how to encourage people to come back into town centres or see an area differently, there are universal human needs and behaviours that unite us – as they always have done.
People will always want somewhere to come together, to leave the house and escape the everyday, to be entertained and to spend time with those they care about. We will always use an area’s history to connect to its present – and to frame its future. These things make us human.
Over recent years we have spent more of our household budgets on developing relationships and enjoying ‘experiences’ – and less on material ‘stuff’. That’s happening across the country, not just in particular areas. Health and wellbeing, food provenance, community, the sharing economy aren’t just isolated trends, they unite us as a nation.
The job of those working in placemaking is to understand these macro trends, explore the big themes that make us human and look at what’s worked elsewhere to develop new ideas that speak to local audiences.