Susan Silberberg led the placemaking research team that produced Places in the Making, an MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning white paper that reveals the widening emphasis of placemaking beyond the design and use of physical place to include the importance of the “making” process in benefiting people and relationships. Design of public spaces during much of the 19th and 20th centuries was guided by industrialization, auto-centered planning and urban renewal. Top-down planning, centralization of control and land use regulations eliminated community voices and ultimately, fractured the bond between communities and public places. In the 1960s, a movement began which asked the question, “What makes a great public place for people?” These early placemaking efforts focused on listening to the needs and wants of users to determine the physical design elements needed to create good public spaces. MIT research reveals that in the half-century since the movement began, the “making” has become as important as the “place;” by engaging in the deliberative and communal processes of shaping public spaces, citizens are connecting with each other, forging relationships, and building social capital.
The research “reveals an astonishing range of placemaking projects, methods and instigators that are taking place across the United States. All have a common emphasis on creating positive change for people and communities through the transformation of a physical place. The research shows that, at the most basic level, the act of advocating for change, questioning regulations, finding funding, and mobilizing others to contribute their voices engages communities – and in engaging, leaves these communities better for it.”