It’s Time To Take Placemaking Seriously
When the term ‘placemaking’ was first coined, it meant just that — making a place. Developing a scheme, building an office, paving a new public plaza. Today the word has evolved and it is much less about the actual fabric of a piece of real estate.
To borrow an idea from U+I Deputy Chief Executive Richard Upton, speaking to Bisnow in March, placemaking is as much about the building as drinking is about the glass. You need the glass, but the real story is about the contents. In terms of property, placemaking is about what goes on inside.
U+I is now one of the first clients for Activate, the new placemaking brand from property consultancy Workman. With Activate, Workman intends to address the desire for today’s version of placemaking that is now driving the people who create and use buildings.
It's Not Enough To Be Efficient
Ten years ago, effective property management focused on providing a clean, fit-for-purpose piece of real estate, operating within an efficient financial model that worked for both tenant and property owner. That is no longer enough, Workman’s new director of placemaking, Andrew Sparrow, said.
“Today, the success of many retail, commercial and mixed-use assets is increasingly determined by the provision of a quality experience and positive social value for local communities, customers and occupiers,” Sparrow said. “Creating places that reflect the needs and aspirations of the people who use them is an instrumental part of achieving this. It’s become a key element of an asset’s placemaking strategy.”
In response to this growing trend across the real estate sector, Workman set about creating Activate. Through this new service, with a newly recruited team to run it, the company will conceive, develop and implement viable placemaking solutions for retail, leisure, office and business parks. Crucial to its success, however, is that the service will complement and work with the firm's core services of property management and building consultancy.
“Although the skills needed for placemaking are distinct from that of property management and building consultancy, we are already seeing numerous opportunities where services naturally combine to provide a more rounded solution,” Sparrow said.
Workman’s approach to working with clients focuses on being on the ground, getting to know the property. The Activate service will be no different.
“Having advised on regeneration projects and operated many retail, mixed-use and commercial developments, including Old Spitalfields Market and Chester Northgate, we’ve seen firsthand how local engagement and research is vital to understanding what the target audience actually wants and requires,” Sparrow said. “For example, within retail, people talk about the death of the high street, but our approach has been to identify local solutions to this national trend by working with independent operators, specialist consultants and local stakeholders.”
The Effects Of Placemaking
In addition to advising on the redevelopment or repurposing of assets, Workman’s placemaking strategy will focus on enlivening what is already there — the contents of the glass, as it were. This could mean adding a range of wellness aspects to an office building or creating a programme of events and experiences to entice consumers into a shopping centre.
There are many studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of carefully curated placemaking and there is no doubt it is moving up the agenda across the UK. For example, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Building Communities has launched a consultation to investigate the role of placemaking in productivity in response to the UK’s falling productivity levels.
When the consultation was launched, APPG Chairman Bob Blackman MP said: “Creating areas that are aesthetically appealing, have good connectivity and are comfortable provides individuals with the opportunity to use the space most effectively. The interaction that happens in these spaces is also a key driver of a successful service economy, boosting productivity through access to knowledge and networks of people.”
The tide is certainly with Workman on the launch of Activate and although still new, Sparrow reported that the team is already having positive conversations with clients about what it can offer. U+I has appointed Activate to consult on a feasibility study to support their development of a potential mixed-used scheme in the Midlands. Though it’s early days, Sparrow is already excited about what can be achieved.
“This is where the future is,” he said. “More and more property owners are starting to focus on placemaking, looking for ways to get the most out of their assets and to give customers what they need. We can only see it becoming an even more important aspect of planning.”
This feature was produced by Bisnow Branded Content in collaboration with Workman. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.