Place-making capitalises on a local community's assets, inspiration, and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people's health, happiness and well being.

On the 30th November 2016 a gathering of people active in creative place-making in Northern Ireland came together for a conversation in Cecil Ward Building, Belfast. These are some of the thoughts and ideas that have emerged which will inspire a wider conversation about the contribution creative cultural activity makes to the wellbeing of people in local places.

Place-making is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. Place-making capitalizes on a local community's assets, inspiration, and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people's health, happiness and well being


This conversational seminar, hosted by Voluntary Arts Ireland in Belfast City Council’s Cecil Ward Building, was intended as an opportunity for participants to:

  • think together about ‘creative place-making’ [meanings, approaches, examples, ..]
  • share their experiences, ideas, insights, aspirations, ..
  • learn from and with others
  • explore innovative ways of enabling/supporting creative place-making across NI


The conversation took place in a civic and political context that includes:

  • Community Planning in Local Council areas
  • the Arts Council’s Challenge Fund
  • a growing interest in everyday creativity, as manifested, for example, in Get Creative
  • the NI 2030 ambition to grow a creative cultural economy that makes Northern Ireland a creative capital for Europe by 2030
  • publication of a UNESCO report, Culture: Urban Future, that explores the power of culture as a strategic asset for creating cities that are more inclusive, creative and sustainable
  • an emerging sense of the importance for our world of civic participation for the common good, e.g. in developments around ‘the commons’ and ‘commoning’.

Format of the session

The session was conceived as mostly conversational, with several short presentations being introduced during the conversation to inform and stimulate our thinking together about ‘creative place-making’. As often is the case, time was against us!

The presentations were:

  • Nick Livingston, Arts Council NI - on The Power of Public Art
  • Rosalind Lowry, Mid & East Antrim Council – on the Creative Citizens Programme
  • Janice Smith, Belfast City Council, with colleagues from PLACE - on City as a Gallery
  • Prof Ruth Morrow, Queen’s University Belfast – on Street Society

‘Creative place-making’ - What are we talking about?

The idea of ‘place-making’ is not a new one. Rooted in thinking and practice in the 1960s and 1970s, place-making has come to describe a collaborative community approach ..for creating and revitalizing public spaces, a process that has, it seems, grown into an international movement. Locally, there are some draft community plans that refer to ‘placemaking’.

Place-making is a powerful idea, much bigger than development or design by itself. Embodying the commons principle that the places we live, work and play belong to us all, place-making emphasizes that citizens must be involved in all aspects of shaping projects in their communities.                                                                                      

Jay Walljasper, 2015

In more recent years, the notion of creative place-making has been getting more attention. But what does this mean for us, both in principle and in practice, here in Northern Ireland? Most of our time was devoted to beginning to explore this question. Some notes from our conversation follow.

Some highlights from group conversations

Creative place-making was seen as having something to do with:

  • art and regeneration
  • people being at the centre of the process
  • questions about power positions, manipulation, politics
  • people sharing common narratives
  • creative citizens re-imagining places
  • co-designing and co-creating
  • an approach more than a product
  • connecting material/physical space with social/conceptual space
  • ethical considerations as well as creative processes
  • making places creatively and making creative places
  • cultural leadership
  • fostering ownership in common, not territorial possessiveness
  • providing a sense of meaning and local identity

Among the words and phrases occurring in the conversation were:

  • civic pride and place
  • cultural democracy
  • noticing what is there and who is active
  • civic participation
  • dialogue - asking what people are doing, and listening
  • open relationships, built on trust
  • permeable boundaries
  • opportunities for learning
  • how to evaluate creative place-making
  • capturing people's dreams
  • leaving no one behind