SCN – The how-to guide to regenerative placemaking

Regenerative placemaking seeks to not only acknowledge the indigenous land of a community but also to reconnect communities with their natural environments. Educating communities and building relationships with local traditional owners and the land itself will create a sense of place, belonging, and connection.

This concept moves far beyond the typical intent of fostering better social interactions within a community through space. This includes nature as a valuable partner for coevolution and ignites a spirit of care and compassion within community members for their place. The place attracts people and people create vibrancy and value for local enterprises.

Step 1: Whose Land are you on?

Acknowledging the land that we are working on and who the key stakeholders are that can help guide the process is a crucial first step. Regenerative placemaking requires an awareness to seek to reconcile relationships in person, and also question the narratives and hierarchies that inform your beliefs about who and what makes a space useful, utilized, beautiful, and safe.

Step 2: Identify ‘your community

To really understand the ‘place you are seeking to revitalize, a map is required to help navigate the multiple layers of Environmental, Social, Culture, Spiritual, Economic, and Political overlays that make the community so unique.  This will help identify the right people to speak with to make sure the process is inclusive. Do not forget – Nature is a stakeholder. It is critical to understand what is alive in this unique place, which bioregion does your street sit within, and what are the predominant native flora and fauna? When considering community – this needs to expand to incorporate all of life – human and non-human.

Step 3:  Set Goals – What does Vibrant look and feel like?

It is rarely the case that all of the community will agree exactly on an outcome that will meet all users’ needs. By getting the community to vision what the public space could look like when it’s humming and vibrant. Check out and their approach to walking and sensing the neighbourhood and acknowledging the living wisdom and answers that can be found there – literally bringing conscious awareness to the place in order to reconnect.

Step 4: Set the process to engage

Once you’ve clarified who is in your community, and which community members your project aims to serve, you’ll need to create a process for engaging that key community to ensure you get it right. In a time of COVID, engagement may seem more difficult than usual. There are several guides that have been produced to help you resist jumping to 100% online engagement and to ensure you reach out to those who are vulnerable and marginalised within the local area.

Step 5: Connect business, community, and nature

Gone are the days where business needs to take place at the expense of our natural environment and at the detriment of our health. This is not an ‘either-or’ decision this is ‘a both and’. ‘Resilient’ places are ones where community, business, and nature are all connected and are all working together. It’s best to identify who (including nature) will benefit from regenerative placemaking and how – identify the sweet spot where there is shared value for all parties.

Step 6: Identify an intervention – have fun with it!

Having identified where the nodal point is that brings benefit to retail businesses, the local natural environment, and the local community – choose an intervention that is appropriate and delivers benefits to all of these three stakeholders. There is real strength in bringing people together to act purposefully towards a shared goal. Perhaps it’s chalking part of the street or holding a kid’s art class outdoors or having a wish tree on the main street for all to contribute to.

Step 7: Set measures of success and test interventions, one at a time

To measure what matters for your high street, having defined what success looks like, then determine ways to measure it, and set a timeline for reviewing the outcomes.

If you are a retailer on a high street who has been struggling through COVID or a shopping mall that has lost its vibrancy and life -COVID offers the potential to rethink placemaking and consider the next steps forward. There is a real opportunity to provide real, meaningfully, connected places, by enabling the community to participate in the reenergising of the streets and malls.  This deepened process of engagement can rebuild relationships across communities and reconcile our relationship with each other, local businesses indigenous land, and nature, thereby delivering an even stronger long lasting strong base for local economic and social health.

This article by Associate | Regenerative Development Lead Claire Bowles was published in the Sept 2020 edition of SCN magazine.