Approaches to Creative Placemaking

Creative Placemaking is an evolving field of practice that intentionally leverages the power of the arts, culture and creativity to serve a community’s interest while driving a broader agenda for change, growth and transformation in a way that also builds character and quality of place. 


Creative Placemaking can be used by communities to engage residents locally, enhance public space and contribute to healthy sustainable communities. It is a strategy to improve community well-being and prosperity while also fostering conditions for cities to define, draw attention to and distinguish themselves on a global scale. To find out more about Artscape’s approach to creative placemaking click here. Read this guide for more information on a range of other approaches to Creative Placemaking, including cultural districts, artist relocation projects, and public art.
The success of creative placemaking is dependent upon collaborations between various civic stakeholders such as governments, private investment, not-for-profit organizations, artists and citizen groups.
As part of this process, partnerships and shared leadership are crucial to build momentum and harness the power of the arts to heighten quality of life and revitalize buildings, neighbourhoods and cities. Within this task, many tools exist to cultivate connections between people and place such as cultural districts, artist relocation projects, mixed-use development, municipal cultural planning, creative industries, public art, community art and urban design.
The end results of creative placemaking can be astounding, and it is important that communities do not simply borrow or copy what has been done elsewhere, but instead look to their own assets and needs to come up with place-based strategies. Around the world, combined energies and interests have used creative placemaking to transform communities and inspire positive investment and change.

Additional resources can also be found by visiting “Placemaking” in the resources section of the Artscape DIY website.


Cultural Districts

Cultural districts are found in cities where a geographic area has been designated or developed for cultural employment, recreation, education and/or tourism. A cultural district may feature galleries, performance space and other businesses that provide a setting for creative consumption and production to flourish.
Cultural districts act as attractions in cities and benefit from mixed-use development, high urban design standards and public realm enhancements such as public art that create a dynamic setting. They can help boost urban economies by revitalizing empty industrial quarters to become gathering places and focal points for visitors and residents to enjoy public space.
Many cities offer a variety of incentives to encourage and support cultural districts.  For example, tax exemptions can be applied to the adaptive re-use of heritage properties and brownfield sites, while zoning incentives designate and permit cultural uses in areas where they may not have been previously found. Zoning can also help maintain the authentic nature of a cultural district by controlling rents and prohibiting other types of development.
Examples of cultural districts in Canada include Toronto’s Distillery District, Montreal’s Quartier des Spectacles, and Calgary’s Cultural District.
Click here to view the many examples of cultural districts located across the United States.
Creative and Cultural Industry Clusters 
While an industry cluster can pertain to any sector, a creative or cultural industry cluster is specific to networks of businesses that produce a core cultural or creative product such as design, interactive media, music, television, film, fashion, architecture, advertising, animation and the performing arts. By locating near one another, clusters facilitate interaction between businesses that thrive on constant cycles of activity within a centralized location for complementary services.
In turn, these clusters become important economic drivers to attract skilled labour and innovation to a specific place. Like cultural districts, tax exemptions and incentives are used to support and stimulate creative/cultural industry clusters. For example, Toronto’s design, fashion, film and television industries benefit from a variety of tax credits and other supports to encourage production and growth. Other government policies such as zoning can designate land for specific industry clusters to maintain space for that use.

In Toronto, creative industry clusters can be found throughout the downtown including concentrations in Liberty Village and the Distillery District. Other well-known creative industry clusters include Miami’s Design District and Silicon Valley in the United States, and the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter and South Yorkshire in the United Kingdom.


Mixed-Use Development
Mixed-use development is a new-urbanist approach to urban planning that encourages walkability, diversity, high quality design and density to revitalize or develop public space and breathe new life into communities. Though zoning was historically employed to separate industrial manufacturing from residential land use to promote health and safety, the changing nature of cities in the 21st century encourages multi-functional communities where residential and commercial activity co-locates in mixed-use developments.
Mixed-use developments can be old or new build, and are a sustainable approach to development that is thought to enrich quality of life by providing residents with a wide range of amenities. Many cities have adopted planning policies that require new development be mixed-use to create “one-stop” destinations for residents to live and work. The results of building a mixed-use community enlivens neighbourhoods beyond the nine-to-five workweek, as residents may enjoy leisure activities, employment, shopping and other lifestyle amenities within the same community. For example, in a mixed-use community, a building may exit on to a public square, have retail stores at ground level, office space on the next five, residential condominiums located in a tower above, and below-market rent units built into the tower.

Examples of mixed-use development include the Distillery DistrictArtscape Wychwood Barns, Daniels SpectrumRockford, Illinois and Habersham, South Carolina in the United States.


Urban Design/Public Realm
Urban design is a tool used to improve the functionality and aesthetics of public space to promote public ease and enjoyment in use. Carefully considered urban design can regenerate empty and abandoned buildings and streets, improve public safety, add prosperity and employment opportunities and bring together diverse groups.
Around the world, many cities and towns have developed urban design guidelines to enrich quality of life and promote high standards for public space. This process includes careful consideration and negotiation that may be informed through community consultation to ensure residents have input into the future development of the place where they live. Urban design can be used to target investment in a community and includes things such as landscape architecture, park and streetscape improvements, public art and wayfinding systems, and can also be used to impose standards for building facades, height and materials.
For example, in Toronto, the Evergreen Brickworks and Artscape’s Wychwood Barns used high quality urban design to create inviting, multi-functional public spaces that have become focal points in the surrounding community.  The U.S.-based not-for-profit organization Project for Public Spaces (PPS), a planning, design and educational organization dedicated to helping people create and sustain public spaces that build stronger communities, is a leader in promoting placemaking through community-engaged public realm initiatives.
Artist Relocation Projects
Artists require affordable space to live and make art, and communities require economic, creative and cultural stimulus to support an attractive public realm. As major cities where artists have historically located become less affordable, artist relocation projects fill the spatial needs of this group by providing and attracting them to another place. This transition occurs when artists move to a new location and establish an arts scene in buildings that may have been formerly unoccupied or had a different use.
Artist relocation projects often use incentives to attract artists and arts-related activity by providing subsidies and assistance for moving, property rehabilitation and start-up costs. The goal of this endeavor is to create an influx and concentrated cluster of creative energy that becomes a mechanism for the community to encourage future livability and prosperity.

Examples of artist relocation projects include Uptown Racine, Cleveland, and Paducah in the United States. Canadian communities like Winnipeg and Hamilton have used development strategies to brand themselves as creative locations attractive to artists.


Municipal Cultural Planning and Mapping
Municipal cultural planning and mapping evaluate existing community cultural assets and identify how they can be used to address local priorities and needs. With ideas dating back to the 1960s, culture is used as the fourth pillar of building healthy sustainable communities, of equal value to social, economic and environmental planning.
In this approach, cultural activity becomes a resource for development by engaging consultation and participation of community members. Municipal cultural planning focuses upon community assets that are both physical and knowledge-based, such as local programs, facilities, unused space, artists, galleries, venues, organizations and community groups. Through taking stock of resources, cultural planning allows the public to better understand the total reach of creative activity and design a plan that integrates culture into city-building both economically and socially.
Cultural planning and asset mapping are used in both urban and rural communities throughout Canada, Australia, the United States and United Kingdom. For example, in addition to larger cities, rural communities in Ontario such as NiagaraHuntsville, South Georgian Bay and Prince Edward County have embraced this approach.

Municipal Cultural Planning Incorporated and the Creative City Network of Canada have several helpful toolkits, links and resources on cultural asset mapping and cultural planning.


Public Art

Public art is a powerful placemaking tool. It encompasses all work that is displayed in the public realm and can be enjoyed by anyone to bridge gaps between art and public space through planned intervention. Works are usually selected through a jury process, and may take shape as a large-scale sculpture, projection, mosaic, fountain, monument, light installation or mural. Many cities around the world have adopted public art programs and policies that require developers to contribute a small percent of gross construction costs (usually between 0.5% to 2%) towards public art, including programs in Canada in OttawaToronto and Vancouver, and ChicagoMiami and Portland in the United States.
Public art is site-specific and can transform public space to create civic pride. Due to the scale of this work, projects often require collaborations between artists, developers, the municipality, engineers and architects. The public art movement dates back to the 1960s, with the City of Toronto as the first Canadian municipality to commission works in its public transportation system. Section 37 of the Ontario Planning Act lists public art as a community benefit, and funds created through this program have contributed to the livelihoods of artists working on large-scale projects in Ontario.

The Creative City Network of Canada has developed a helpful Public Art Toolkit.


Community Arts

Community arts (also referred to as community-based art, neighbourhood arts, and community-engaged arts) are a grassroots discipline to empower and influence personal and community wellbeing. In North America, community arts groups have operated since the 1960s with the underlying goal to impact social change by using art as a method to work within specific issues, geographies and populations. Positive outcomes of this activity include community development, social inclusion and public and mental health benefits.
While economic development in cities can be achieved at a large scale through a cultural district, large-scale festival or event, community arts impact participants individually by fostering transferable life skills. They emphasize the outcome of involvement in creative production and most often require public investment and volunteer resources. Community arts cultivate social capital through skill building, education and relationships that in turn provide a platform for individuals to engage with each other, their community and larger social issues.
Click here to access case studies, bibliographies and other useful resources at York University’s Community Arts Practice (CAP) program.