Place-making, place making, placemaking: to hyphenate or not to hyphenate, that is the question?


Drake Street 07.01.16
After the flood: Drake Street, Rochdale. Picture taken on 7th January 2015.

Every time I visit Rochdale, or hear about Rochdale, or read about Rochdale, I learn more about the town. This could be a physical learning – the feel of the ground beneath my feet as I discover a new short cut to nip across town.  (And that “oh right” moment when you realise that the route you’ve been taking for over a year is actually somewhat circuitous.) Or perhaps learning a new piece of historical information about Rochdale from colleagues at the university. (Did you know that Rochdale cemetery is the last resting place of Ada Nield Chew, the “Crewe factory girl” and a passionate campaigner for women’s suffrage?  No, I didn’t either and life is all the richer for knowing this!)  The more I learn, the more I make sense and meaning about the place, the more the town becomes familiar.  Each road with their embossed lettering: Fleece street; the jaunty flag shape of the sign for Nelson street; Drake street up to Oldham road are all added to a mental map and I now walk – almost as if on autopilot – towards now known destinations without staring at a phone or an A-Z of Greater Manchester.  (Yes, I’m old school and I like my book-bound gridded maps!)  In a way, I’ve “made place” or perhaps made myself “at home” in a place.  Just after Boxing Day 2015, the centre of Rochdale looked different from the above picture (links to Manchester Evening News image of Rochdale).  The flooding of the River Roch changed how the town looked in images – unfamiliar, dangerous under dun water.  And I found myself tracing the submerged roads in my imagination – remembering what the area looked like before the river burst its banks.

After that preamble, this week I’ve been thinking about how place – of course, in this case, Rochdale – is made and this blog is to reflect how some of that thinking has spilled over a little into sweating over a hyphen.  (I may leave the second question for another time which the above sketch begs: why do images or writing of dramatic change elicit strong reaction when you’re not there to experience it or help out?)

So, while doing this thinking during writing a longer piece which will (hopefully) eventually end up in the thesis, I’ve had to get to grips with subject matter from elsewhere.  As a writer and literature scholar who’s concerned with how place is understood through reading, mapping, and writing, I’ve had a (short) crash course into the world of architecture, urban design, and town planning.  So far from this research I’ve found that one of the go-to phrases in this area is the concept of “place-making”.  But, slightly confusingly, it’s also referred to as “placemaking”.  Oh, and it’s also, “place making”.  There seems to be no agreed convention and all three are used somewhat interchangeably.

…bear with me for a brief, tangential moment of introspective bellybutton examination…

Before we even begin to question and unpick what this term placemaking/place-making/place making could mean, first there needs to be some thoughts on the words “place” and “making”.  For brevity (as this is something I could probably go on about for hours) here are a few, flung out thoughts taking the words “place” and “making” separately and presenting a few definitions and some of the contradictions therein:

Place: belonging, exclusion, lived experience, locative, identity, dwelling, home, changeable.

Making: creating, controlling, fixing, flexing, moulding, mending, manufacturing, branding.

Just for fun, have a random meaning generator:

Place + making = manufacturing dwelling; creating lived experience; moulding location; fixing identity; branding home; changing belonging; mending exclusion.

(Recently I stumbled across this much lovelier examination of “creative place making” that was deconstructed during a workshop facilitated by urban planning scholar  Claire Tunnacliffe at UCL.)

Enough of that, back to the original question: to hyphenate or not to hyphenate?

Below I’ve had a bit of a think about the different morphologies of place-making as well as providing a few links to where they’re being discussed and/or implemented.

  • Two separate words: place making.
  • Hyphenated* – place-making.
    • Interestingly, I found that one of the earliest uses of this term was in 1872 for campanology – the study of bell ringing. Place-making is “the action of ringing the changes on two bells in a way that makes room for a third” (OED, 2016).  Most references I’ve seen to the use of the hyphenated version occur in academic papers but there’s a reference from a South Norfolk Council planning document where a place-making project existed “to promote and secure high quality design in new development within the district” (anon, 2012).
  • Compound word – two words are squished into one, placemaking.
    • According to the Project for Public Spaces, placemaking “inspires people to collectively reimagine and reinvent public spaces as the heart of every community”.  The Scottish Government defines placemaking as “a creative, collaborative process that includes design, development, renewal or regeneration of our urban or rural built environments” (anon, n.d.).


However, these definitions are quite abstract and read more like a mission statements, yet the key thing that these nice-but-vague terms have in common is the thrust towards urban design, towards increased retail and commerce opportunities.  A good deal of place-making literature is utopian where sometimes “the greatest ongoing challenge is how to get the right balance between gentrification and revitalization” (link to .pdf).  However, there doesn’t seem to be much about how people make place everyday – ordinary place, mundane place, banal place – and on place attachment, or there’s little on how people who live in a place are involved in the process of place-making.  (Consider those who may feel disenfranchised from council or wider governmental decision-making and how they are engaged, invited, or inspired to become involved in projects.) From the language of town council, business and governmental documents it seems decisions and actions made about place-making are top down.  Further, there are questions around what place – in particular public space in place – means to different people; who is privileged and who is excluded (link to .pdf).


While some of this is beyond the realm of a literature thesis, this is an area that I’m incredibly interested in from a social justice angle. Yet unpicking the language of place-making, and considering alternative approaches such as Claire Tunnacliffe’s “creative place making”, can help with understanding how a place is read, written, experienced and understood.


Like place, this thinking is a work in process.


Further reading if you’re interested in this area:

This report is over a decade old now, but it’s still fascinating reading and has shaped some of my thinking over the years about gentrification, regeneration and the homogeneity of place.  I also believe that much of it is still relevant: nef’s Clone Town Britain.


* Here, I must express a mild preference for hyphens as I think the hypen looks like a small chain, or a half-space, and works as both a distancing and associative device.  Maybe that’s just me.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s