In Singapore, we are seeing more examples and evidence of how public spaces and even common spaces in buildings and workplaces, have been successfully transformed by adhering to basic principles of placemaking that include community engagement; stakeholder input; and curated programming. Now, commercial real estate players recognize the importance and value of placemaking as the emphasis shifts from the physical design to the user wellness and experience of a space. Placemaking is happening at the city, district, building, and even workplace scale.
Successful placemaking generates vibrancy and builds a sense of community that leads to engagement, creativity, wellness and collaboration, all the elements that are vital to the innovation economy.
Placemaking at Different Levels
At the city level, Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) is engaging communities, businesses and other public agencies to champion the activation and vibrancy of public spaces through various programs including Car Free Sundays, Streets for People, Weekend Street Closures, and Our Favourite Place programs. These placemaking programs enliven public spaces for the enjoyment of the public, often with economic as well as social, health and environmental benefits.
At the district level, developments such as one-north developed and managed by Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) and GuocoLand’s Tanjong Pagar Centre, are examples where there is a high degree of fine mixing and layering of work, live, play, and learn, while offering a variety and intensity that is vital to building a vibrant community. In Tanjong Pagar Centre, the 150,000 sq ft landscaped Urban Park (pictured above) features a green lawn, rooftop gardens and a wide, open space sheltered by a glass canopy for recreational and lifestyle events. A highlight of the park is the City Room, a vibrant public environment for special events and outdoor performances, and offers a variety of food & beverage options.
JTC, Singapore’s principal developer and manager of industrial estates and their related facilities, had the foresight years ago to form an internal team to focus on placemaking with the objective to selectively activate the public spaces in one-north to foster a vibrant community leveraging the world-class knowledge based enterprises located in the development. The company creatively trialled and tested placemaking ideas and applied its principles that included engaging stakeholders – in this case tenants – and creative programming to turn the spaces in between buildings into places.
Based on tenant feedback, critical information on how to approach programming has led to JTC’s regular Fantastic Friday events and ad hoc activities at one-north such as science fairs, talent contests, movie nights, fun runs and even a bicycle race during a car free Sunday.
What Drives Placemaking
Now, other real estate players are catching on. The successful principles of placemaking at the urban and district development level are being applied at the building and workplace level as well.
Flexible working and mobility enabled by technology has disrupted how businesses operate as well as attract and retain talent. This coincides with the tidal rise of the millennial workforce, those born in the 1980s to mid-1990s and their apparent desire to work and connect on the go using a myriad of channels whether email, or mobile or video conferencing. Whatever the method, the lines between work and play are blurring.
The millennial worker wants to be able to transition seamlessly between work and play at various times of the day. Placemakers have responded by designing, configuring, and programming spaces that promote a unique experience of work, vibrancy and a sense of community. This probably accounts for the rising popularity of co-working as it is the logical response to the needs of the millennial workforce.
Numerous reports try to make a connection between productivity, creative and innovation levels and well-curated spaces. Millennials want to be able to work in an environment that creates opportunities to toss up ideas, bounce them off co-workers and collaborators, even challenge the status quo.
Placemakers believe very firmly that a physical space that offers an authentic, relevant and diverse experience provides the ideal incubator environment for the generation of ideas and innovative solutions to challenges in a knowledge economy. Witness the success of incubator spaces such as JTC Launchpad (formerly known as Block 71), which nurtured start-ups such as Carousell. Entrepreneurs in all types of industries are attracted to Launchpad for the collaborative and open environment that exists there.
The success of placemaking is coming at a time where there is a heightened awareness that the human element and user experience are important components to vibrant public spaces and healthy workplaces. Developers, designers, planners, and even those managing buildings and public space need to recognize that placemaking is an important element. In the case of Launchpad, placemaking principles are being applied to deliberately foster interactions among start-ups, researchers, and entrepreneurs to create a work environment that encourages collaboration, sharing and creativity which can lead to innovation.
The sharing economy will drastically transform the way business is conducted everywhere. These trends are primarily driven by the same generation of millennials who instinctively work and play in a more open and collaborative culture. Increasingly, the market place is being dominated by a generation of consumers who are willing to rent or borrow rather than buy or own. Common physical spaces and the community experiences that are shared are therefore perfectly natural and logical in a sharing economy.
Office and retail landlords are increasingly pressured to provide a more interactive, diverse and bespoke experience offered by a space. The more varied the experience, the more likely people will engage with the space. It is no surprise that developers and placemakers place a premium on mixed use sites that yield tremendous potential for an integrated experience of working, living and playing in one single locale.
Placemaking is an ongoing effort that requires programming, feedback and adaptation.
After all, if places can be attractive and vibrant and also yield real commercial and economic benefits for businesses, developers and owners, it is increasingly clear that placemaking should be an integral part of any real estate enhancement strategy.
Note: This story originally appeared in the July 16, 2018 issue of EdgeProp newspaper in Singapore.