Recognising ingenuity of placemakers amid changing landscape, challenges


Maimunah: Effective placemaking can be the ‘glue’ connecting public spaces with people, cultural heritage and local governments to city functions, urban systems, green spaces and infrastructure.

A SPECIAL category – Placemaking during the Pandemic – was introduced in the inaugural Placemaker Awards Asean to showcase the creativity and ingenuity of placemakers from South-East Asia in handling challenges brought on by Covid-19.

Placemaker Awards Asean (PAA) 2021 saw 57 submissions from Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand competing for the best placemaker recognition within Asean.

Placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces to create vibrant spaces to offer stakeholders a sense of well-being, safety and comfort.

The other categories were: Government (Public Space), NGO/ Community (Public Space), Private (Public Space), Government (Private Public Space), NGO/ Community (Private Public Space) and Private (Private Public Space).

Public Space categories refer to spaces open and accessible to people, such as parks and public squares, while Private Public Space includes malls and privately-owned open spaces for public use.

The Placemaker of the Year titles went to the organisations behind Chiang Mai Urban Farm and Kampung Ngampon projects, in recognition of their outstanding efforts in using a participatory approach to curate high-quality public spaces for community use.

A judging panel comprising local and international placemaking experts and advocates evaluated the submissions based on design, programming, community value and ownership aspects.

Organised by Nextdor Property Communications and Think City, PAA 2021 is a platform for local governments, developers, NGOs and organisations to showcase community- building efforts on public spaces.

UN-Habitat executive director Datuk Seri Paduka Maimunah Mohd Sharif said effective placemaking could be the “glue” connecting public spaces with people, cultural heritage and local governments to city functions, urban systems, green spaces and infrastructure.

“Public spaces are an indispensable component of our cities.

“Globally, about one-third of a city’s land area is covered by public spaces and facilities like streets, parks, libraries and markets,” she said.

Hamdan: Placemakers are an important part of a larger city ecosystem.Hamdan: Placemakers are an important part of a larger city ecosystem.

Quoting a World Bank report titled “The Hidden Wealth of Cities”, she said many cities around the world were missing out on significant socio-economic and development opportunities by ignoring, under-leveraging or mismanaging public space assets.

“Now is the time to improve a city’s quality of life for the betterment of communities and neighbourhoods by improving city walkability, public safety, social inclusion, neighbourhood vibrancy, urban health and citizen well-being,” she added.

Think City managing director Hamdan Abdul Majeed said while the making of a city was a large undertaking involving different sectors, placemakers had played a big part in ensuring safety, mobility, inclusivity, functionality and bringing sense of joy, belonging and identity to public spaces.

He said the dynamics of urban landscapes had become even more challenging today.

“Placemakers are an important part of a larger city ecosystem. Without placemakers, the urban landscapes will be very different,” he reiterated.

Noting the overall quality of submissions, Nextdor Property founder Imran Cylde said there was substantial interest in community gardens as a platform for community building.

Imran: There was substantial interest in community gardens as a platform for community building at the PAA 2021.Imran: There was substantial interest in community gardens as a platform for community building at the PAA 2021.

“There were also submissions that weaved in history, culture and art as a collective expression of a community. These did quite well.

“The act of placemaking looks at how we can leverage public spaces to unite local communities in pursuit of a common goal.

“If not, what steps were taken to improve the process,” he said.

On the lack of standout winners in the government category, Imran said that after substantial deliberation, judges decided that such projects needed a higher level of community engagement and a top-down approach might not capture the local communities’ needs.

“Successful placemaking projects around the world have deep and continuous engagement with multiple communities and they are all involved in the intent, process and outcome.

“Municipalities can then play the role of a facilitator to unite the community, and help with approvals, regulations and other aspects,” he said.

Imran, who is also Place-making Malaysia vice-chairman, said that all projects could look into improving the community involvement aspect to show how the space reflected the community’s aspirations.

“Placemaking is a process, so the journey is important regardless of the project size,” he said.

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