20 May 2012

Placemaking at Home and Outward

Much of my work in the past, with Food not Lawns and before that, with Food not Bombs, Earth First and Greenpeace, could have been called placemaking, though we didn't use the word at the time. The first time I heard of "placemaking" was when I attended Portland City Repair's first Village Building Convergence in 2002. By then, Food Not Lawns had been actively place-making our neighborhood in Eugene for 3 years, and we were thrilled to find a group of people who were so well-organized toward the vision of natural, thriving neighborhoods where people share resources in friendship-based community.

Truly, the concept of placemaking has been in play since long before I started doing activist work. For as long as humans have existed, we have created spaces for ourselves to dwell, work, socialize, and share needs and resources. 

My current survey of ecorevelatory arts has led me into a renewed foray into the idea of placemaking, and though I haven't had time to dive too deep, the study warrants a bit of sharing.


There are many different kinds of placemaking, from the architectural to the ephemeral, and everything in between. 

I am particularly interested in a sort of emotional placemaking, in opening doors in people's minds to let in new ideas. I have been ruminating on this often lately.


I have connected my research with my current garden project--the transformation of my junked out urban backyard into an edible oasis. I just moved into this place three months ago, and I knew I wasn't going to have a lot of time to work out there all summer. So I just blitzed it, let the design evolve organically, and spent the entire time thinking about art, place, and how to make a difference.
The "Before" Pictures from February 15
It was a garden once but had been neglected for years.
People who know me have given me a reputation for being extremely good with space. I am good at finding creative space to work and live, and good at transforming that space with minimal time and money into an aesthetically pleasing and functionally productive environment. Call it a gift if you will, I consider it a necessity, and know that the placemaking that I do is, for me, more about setting myself up for what I want to then do in that space than it is about the space itself.

And so when I moved into my place and the porch was so dingy and dismal, I had to paint it in order to get any other work done! (Read the blog post about that project here.) Ditto with the garden. And so now the view from my desk is of a thriving, soon-to-be abundant garden instead of a slimy overgrown mess. Feel me?
First I stripped off the sod by hand. It was hard work!



The sod is a great resource, loaded with soil and worms.
I piled it upside down on top of the gravel in front and planted it with seeds.
Then, I had Todd the Tillerman hit it for a half-hour!
Next step: shape the beds and start planting!
I still did a lot of digging by hand, like in this corner. Here's Before.
And After! With a new Plum tree and a nice path.
I planted 7 plum trees and about 40 other species already, mostly plants I got for free from friends' gardens, including akebia, apple mint, bamboo, banana, basil, calendula, celery, chives, chocolate mint, chrysanthemum, cilantro, comfrey, corn, cucumbers, curry, echinacea, foxglove, gladiolus, honeysuckle, ladies mantle, lettuce, lilies, lovage, marigolds, melons, mugwort, onions, oregano, peppers, poppies, potatoes, raspberries, sorrel, squash, strawberries, sunflowers, thyme, tomatillos, tomatoes, valerian, yerba buena, zinnias, and zucchini!
The original garden space in this yard was just these two boxes.
But I prefer to garden "outside the box" !


I am going to the Village Building Convergence again this year, teaching two workshops on front-yard gardening. I am looking forward to it, but still unsure that this is really my place in the world. Just because we are good at something, does that really make it our calling? I am not so sure. But what I do know is that I will have fun, make friends, and build gardens, and that can't be bad!

Here are some books about Placemaking:

Walljasper, Jay, Benjamin Fried, and Project for Public Spaces. The Great Neighborhood Book : A do-it-Yourself Guide to Placemaking Gabriola Island, B.C: New Society Publishers, 2007. Print. This book reminded me of what I was trying to do, in part, with Food Not Lawns. The author writes simply and clearly, and illustrates a ton of hands-on, practical things that anyone can do to improve their community. An excellent resource.

Fleming, Ronald Lee. The Art of Placemaking : Interpreting Community through Public Art and Urban Design. London: Merrell, 2007. Print. This is a lovely book, full of photos and project examples. You could spend years just studying this one book and the work it examines. 

Schneekloth, Lynda H., and Robert G. Shibley. Placemaking : The Art and Practice of Building Communities. New York: Wiley, 1995. Print. This heady book takes a critical look at placemaking,  and goes through several case studies. It was interesting to me to read such a mainstream approach to the concept, as my experience with it has always been in the subculture. However, the academic writing and dense, structural focus of the book makes it a tome better kept for the serious, working organizer rather than for the casual inquirer.

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