We’ve been thinking recently about the term place-keeping which we work with every day. We have grown so used it and have developed our understanding of what we mean by it so clearly that we forget it might not be so immediately obvious to others.

So let’s start with the ‘keeping’ part of place-keeping which seems to have confused some people. For example, recently someone said to me that place-keeping implies an inflexible view of how management happens, suggesting that conservation and preservation take precedence. In essence, this argument claims that place-keeping is about retaining the status quo and not changing anything.

This couldn’t be further from our interpretation of place-keeping. The whole reason we developed place-keeping as a concept is because place-making, when interpreted into practice, does not allow for how places change. When the designers leave, and (traditional) management and maintenance takes over if indeed there is any money for this, there is often no consideration of the dynamic nature of places. 

 When design and management are not aligned, standardised maintenance prevails with little acknowledgement of how the landscape naturally changes. 

When design and management are not aligned, standardised maintenance prevails with little acknowledgement of how the landscape naturally changes. 

 photo courtesy of Andrew Burton.

photo courtesy of Andrew Burton.

Places are not static and they change over time - trees and vegetation grow, how people use the place changes over time and one’s meanings of places morph and develop in all sorts of ways. 

 When design and management are closely aligned, dynamic change in the landscape can be addressed, demonstrated here in a natural playground in the residential area of Emmen, the Netherlands.

When design and management are closely aligned, dynamic change in the landscape can be addressed, demonstrated here in a natural playground in the residential area of Emmen, the Netherlands.

For me, I have always loved to jog alone in parks and green spaces. Since moving to Sheffield, this is often along the Rivelin River, my favourite place for jogging as I really enjoy running alongside the flowing water. But I also love meandering at a much slower pace with my toddler son, throwing sticks into the river, spotting birds and crossing the stepping stones.

 Meandering along the Rivelin.

Meandering along the Rivelin.

So, we are not suggesting that ‘place-making’ as defined by others such as the Project for Public Spaces in USA are wrong to use that term when they are clearly talking about management as a fundamental component. Indeed, there are a lot of overlaps between what we are talking about and what PPS have been doing since the 1970s.

The ideas behind place-making are great, the sentiments are laudable – of course we all want to create sustainable, valued and high-quality places. However, the truth of the matter is that there are real problems when we investigate what happens in practice. Because this is where things break down – and they break down too often. They break down when managers are not consulted as part of the planning and design process. They break down when equipment or planting installed in a place requires management practices place managers do not have resources or skills to achieve. They break down when the community is not effectively engaged in the place-making process and this can manifest itself in vandalism, a sense of ‘I don’t care’ or a decision to use other spaces.  

So, the term place-keeping was coined because place-making as a concept and in practice underplayed the importance of long-term management. And when there is no thought about the long-term management or it is just assumed that it will happen, all those place-making aims will be lost.  Places are not made overnight, and sometimes they do need a ‘re-design’ to ensure they remain valued.  It’s for this reason that we see place-making as a fundamental part of the wider concept place-keeping: the long-term and flexible management of green and open spaces, to ensure they can be enjoyed by all users now and in the future.  

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AuthorNicola Dempsey