How to Make a Great Urban Place

How to Make a Great Urban Place

In the process of placemaking, the words “brand” and “reputation” are interchangeable. A few examples:

  • The Pearl in Portland has the reputation as a cool place to live or visit, with historic architecture, great bars and restaurants and lots of boutiques and galleries—and its brand qualities are appealing, lively, fun and exciting.
  • The Seacliff area of San Francisco has a reputation for large, elegant residences with ocean views, which contribute to a brand that’s serene, luxurious and exclusive.

This is a significant point for land developers working in urban areas, because the project site often comes with an existing reputation that needs to change if it is to become a desirable place. At JStokes Agency, we’ve been intimately involved with transformational placemaking in a number of urban master plans. In Mission Bay, an outdated rail yard became one of San Francisco’s most desirable new neighborhoods. In Austin, Texas, the old municipal airport is now a popular live, work, play, shop address. An abandoned shipping terminal and warehouse on Alameda Island is well on its way to becoming a mixed-use community.

All of these examples have similar core qualities, as articulated by urban studies theorist Richard Florida. He describes evaluation criteria for a great urban place as the following:

WHAT’S THERE: the combination of the built environment and the natural environment, a stimulating, appealing setting for the pursuit of creative lives.

WHO’S THERE: diverse people of all ethnicities, nationalities, religious and sexual orientations, interacting and providing clear clues that this is a community where anyone can fit in and make a life.

WHAT’S GOING ON: the vibrancy of street life, café, culture, arts and music; the visible presence of people engaging in outdoor activities—altogether a lot of active, exciting, creative goings on.

Want to know more? Florida’s book, The Rise of the Creative Class—Revisited, is an excellent resource for planning or branding urban redevelopment.

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Lynn Jackson
Lynn Jackson

Lynn is the Vice President, Creative at Jstokes Agency and has been involved with branding and marketing for the land development industry for 30 years.

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