Placemaking for 34 great waterfront urban landscapes

I admire the Public for Public Space and I like this video, even if it is too long. Also, I mostly agree with the criticisms of landscape architects and the other design professions. What I regret about the film is the detachment from design theory.
Fred Kent’s answer to the question ‘What Makes a Great Place?’ is (1) sociability (2) uses and activities (3) comfort and image (4) access & linkage. It is not wrong but it is muddled. Fred Kent should have begun with Vitruvius and had he done this the list might have been re-organized as follows (1) commodity: uses, activities, sociability and comfort (2) FIRMNESS: construction and planting supporting a healthy ecosystem, with access and linkage for humans and other species (3) DELIGHT, or, as Vitruvius put it VENUSTAS – his word extends to all the aesthetic qualities associated with Venus, rather than the marketing-mens’ word ‘image’.
Some acquaintance with design history might also have yielded the fact that Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown described himself as a Place Maker.

10 thoughts on “Placemaking for 34 great waterfront urban landscapes

  1. Christine

    The first thing necessary for designers of public places to truly be place makers is to have a vision of the future which is larger than the horizon of the next development project, the next trend in architectural or landscape theory etc. Having today viewed the beginning of the planting of Hyde Park in Sydney, the largeness and generosity of the vision of tomorrow struck me as something missing in todays thinking.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Please could you say more about ‘vision of the future’ theory/trend. I have not visited Hyde Park in Sydney but believe it is what I would classify as a Victorian Park (which, incidentally, is not what Hyde Park in London is). Standing further back, I would classify Victorian Parks as having been made under the influence of Romanticism. They let people who could not see the world make imaginative journeys to exciting and interesting places, removed from them in space and time.

  2. Christine

    I am unable to locate anything precise on it, but I am under the impression that long range travel in the Victorian era was more common than might be imagined. Even women were undertaking independent travel abroad under the influence of Isabel Bird and I am sure her colonial Australian sisters were no less adventurous, although their destination was more likely the Continent and the UK than the United States, the Middle East and Asia.

    What struck me in particular in the early photograph of Hyde Park in Sydney was the relatively small scale development (buildings) of Sydney surrounding the park, with the scalar layout of a park which imagined a future in which the city would be much more substantial (as indeed it is today). There is also some Georgian literature on the early layout of the city which says something similar about the imaginings of the city fathers as the laid the foundations of streets, squares and public buildings.

    Saying this Hyde Park in Sydney is a pocket park compared to Hyde Park in London!

    It is not often that this contrast (of the present and the future vision), and the notion of building for the future is experienced today, although it was there in the vision and laying out of Canberra and has bequeathed a spatial generosity which is in danger of being lost to densification trends. The grand vista and the grand vision seem not to be aspects of today’s understanding of cities.

    ‘Grand’ is different to the impetus to the ‘Monumental’.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Oh yes. There is a wonderful account of continental travel in the Memoirs of a Highland lady: the autobiography of Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus, afterwards Mrs. Smith of Baltiboys, 1797-1830. They travelled with several coaches and a large number of retainers. And Margery Kempe was able to reach Jersulam in the 14th century But this type of trip was not common until towards the second half of the nineteenth century and, even then, was only for those with wealth and courage in equal proportions. Steam power made all the difference!
      The Australian city which interests me most from the point of view of its long-term visionary plan is Adelaide, and the work of William Light. Unfortunately, planning in this way requires the type of power which comes more naturally to kings, emperors and popes than to democratic societies. There are lots of people with visions but few people with power and vision.

  3. Christine

    Ironically it is dispute whether the Adelaide plan is truly the wok of William Light, but perhaps that is only a local controversy popular amongst South Australian histrorians? Even Adelaide with its longstanding sense of confidence and independence seems to be succumbing to contemporary trends rather than taking an enlightened stance. The historic heritage of Adelaide is its strength as it has not been bequeathed much of significance in the modern period and onwards.

    The fact that early in Australia’s history as a democracy with the universal voting it was able to ‘think big’ says much for the possibilities. It is true that Kings, Emperors and Popes are more naturally nation builders, more naturally visionary, and perhaps this is because they do not face elections every three or so years…but they did have to contend with wars, regicide, anti-Pope’s and other challenges to their power. It is probably the reason why Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’ was so popular!

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      There is a pretty good account of the city’s foundation in William Light’s Journal. Perish the thought, but could local historians have a Stalinist approach to history (ie wanting to believe that everything is indigenous)?
      There is a real worry about democracy as a system of government, for the reason you give. Churchill thought it the worst system of government, except for all the others. He also made a great mistake over the defense of Singapore (because all the guns were pointing seaward) and would surely be interested to learn that (1) it is an exceptionally well-run country (2) it is not a complete (‘western’) democracy and may be the model towards which China is heading.

  4. Christine

    “The map drawn by George Kingston and Colonel William Light and published in May 1837
    following naming of the streets in Adelaide, shows the numbered Town Acres separated by major
    thoroughfares surveyed mainly horizontally, between every two rows of Town Acres.”
    The wikipedia entry hints at the possibiity that one rather than the other was more responsible for the Adelaide town plan.[ ]

    It is a while since my reading of the account by historians so my memory is a little hazy on how it all plays out!

    Do you have a quote from Light himself?

    Yes, it is interesting to contemplate a democratic China, even if it is democratic in a limited sense!

  5. Christine

    It is an interesting exhibit in favor of Light. I am not sure if it is included in the historians considerations. It might be possible to investigate this mystery further!


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