Building communities

We’ve been talking, thinking and writing about placemaking all week. 

It’s no longer good enough to throw up a building; now we create places with a community in mind.  A similar shift has happened in marketing over the last 5 years.  Creating a great website, brochure or event is only the beginning; we then have to bring it to life and build a community to engage with it.  We’re even using the same language: experiential, activation, curation, community, cadence.

It’s an interesting parallel.  All the people involved in the creation of a place or a brand – from design and investment through to build, launch and management – now begin their work from the point of view of the person we are selling that vision to.  It sounds so obvious, but it wasn’t always that way.

Data-based creativity

With the data and communications channels now at our disposal we can test every assumption we have and monitor real responses.

What routes do people really take when they move across town or through your website?  Where were they before they got to you and what were they doing?  Is the person attending that street market or corporate event the same one who reads your newsletter?  Are the people who buy from you the ones you were targeting – and was their purchase decision based on what you thought it would be?

Challenge the brief – what question are you trying to answer?

Good foundations

Our colleagues at the Institute of Place Management and the CIM, as well as our design-led clients Placemarque and CallisonRTKL all consider the same core elements for good human-centric design.


Does it stack up?  Can you afford to build it and will the returns justify the investment?  Our mantra: if you can’t measure it, don’t do it.


Look after what you’ve built. Is it delivering months or years later? Have you maintained quality and consistency? How often should you intervene? Is it still fit for purpose?


This is the baseline of your community’s needs. Does it function? Can they find the information or the loaf of bread that they need? These are the things that bring people in and then make them stay a little longer, walk a little further, invest a little more.


People make decisions based on how something makes them feel. That lift in the spirits when we are nearly home, the inspiration and curiosity that comes from learning something new, the joy of doing good work with people we like.  This understanding helps us create things that people want to engage with (and are easier to sell).


Creativity – something new, innovative, interesting, a fresh perspective – is what keeps us all engaged.  It’s also how we encourage diversity of thought for new solutions to the big challenges (climate, housing, mental health) and the small. Have you engaged with some of the fresh thinkers in the industry, eg Agile Ageing Alliance or City of Trees?


Curation gives a place or a brand life. Whether that’s independent retailers, sharing interesting content on social media or creating space for artists, what are you doing to keep your community engaged and maintain your investment value?

Want to talk about this some more?

We are launching a campaign for CallisonRTKL about human-centric urbanism – engage with us on twitter #HumanCentricUrbanism

Follow the conversation on vibrant town centres at the IPM annual conference (sadly we won’t be attending)

Read Placemarque’s upcoming blog piece on wayfinding for housing developments

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