WFYI Essay: “Making a Place into a Home.”

Making a Place into a Home
Jim Walker
CEO of Big Car Collaborative

Placemaking is a relatively new term — even a buzzword — and one more and more people are using, sometimes incorrectly. As an artist who works to help make places for people, I was searching for a good metaphor that helps explain what placemaking really is. I found it thanks to David Engwicht, an Australian artist, writer, and placemaker. In his book, Street Reclaiming, David explains that placemaking is like homemaking — but for public places.

We understand the difference between a house and a home. An empty house— maybe abandoned or just between residents — isn’t anybody’s home. Once people are in the building, once they begin bringing in beds, sofa, lamps, kitchen table, desk, knickknacks for the shelves, art for the walls, it starts feeling like a home.

But the house isn’t there yet. Homemaking takes more than stuff. Home only happens when people are there in the kitchen eating breakfast, reading a book on the porch, talking with each other over dinner, dancing to music in the living room during a party. Home is a place where people share affection, where we feel connected with each other. Home is where we — hopefully — feel welcome and safe, where we play and have fun, where we feel comfortable putting our feet up and staying a while. Home is a place we’re in no hurry to leave.

In thinking about it this way, placemaking is really about bringing these warm, safe, and social feelings into public places. And, just as we know a house isn’t made a home without people, places aren’t made by nicely designed landscapes with plopped-in public art and shiny stone benches. The key ingredient to a made place is people being there. This takes amenities and activities — often associated with home — that invite us to stay, to linger and connect with each other. These might be comfortable seats for taking a break, tables and for eating lunch, games to play with new friends, music to enjoy, opportunities for conversations and for people of all ages to get creative.

Today, our society struggles with people living in isolation, with families and real-life social networks frayed as we spend more time with technology than each other. Too often, we’re in such a hurry — imagined or otherwise — that we rarely spend time on neighborhood sidewalks or in our public places where we might mingle and spontaneously connect with our fellow citizens. And that’s why making and sustaining places that bring people together is so important. We all need and deserve that feeling of home, of knowing we’re in a place where we belong.

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Each year Spirit & Place partners with WFYI on a series of essays on the annual theme. Listen to them here.

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