“You’ll be surprised what can be accomplished if you are willing to think big about your little place in the world.”
- Why changing the world one place at a time can lead to big things in The Great Neighorhood Book
The Great Neighborhood Book: A Do-it-Yourself Guide to Placemaking by Jay Walljasper and Project for Public Spaces
New Society Publishers, 2011, 192 pages, $19.95 USD
A joint venture between Project for Public Spaces (PPS) and Senior PPS Fellow Jay Walljasper, The Great Neighborhood Book: A Do-it-Yourself Guide to Placemaking highlights the possibilities of placemaking by using the success stories of everyday people that can inspire you to do similar things in your own communities.
The PPS is a nonprofit dedicated to creating and sustaining public spaces that build communities and placemaking is something they see as both a philosophy and a process. Architects and planners started to use the term in the 1970s but the concepts originated in the 1960s when writers offered their ideas about designing cities that truly catered to people, not just to cars and malls.
The Great Neighorhood Book is definitely meant to be used as a guide, since it is fairly structured so as to walk you through easily the first time and then continue to come back when you need to refer to a certain idea or section. The table of contents gives a great overview for anyone who’s unsure what placemaking could entail:
- Feeling Right at Home: How to foster a sense of community
- Where Everybody Knows Your Name: How to create great places to hang out
- Going Places: How to tame traffic and improve transportation
- Keeping Peace in the Streets: How to assure safety and promote justice
- Where the Action Is: How to boost local economic vitality
- Greening the Neighborhood: How to keep things clean, green and natural
- Pride in Your Place: How to nurture pleasure and pizzazz
- Getting Things Done: How to make your dreams a reality
After a preface giving the author’s experience with placemaking and an introduction by PPS about changing the world one place at a time, each chapter begins with a list of the suggested actions and challenges, as shown here:
Context is often provided with each suggested initiative with a background on where it came from and/or a quick example or two to go with it and some ideas are also then accompanied by longer success stories. Since these ideas are not very detailed in the guide, every initiative is followed by one or two resources, most of which are available online so that you can further your understanding and think about action.
I had picked up The Great Neighorhood Book the summer after I had finished my bachelors in urban planning and though I haven’t acted on any of these suggestions myself, it was a very inspirational read since these were real people doing real things to make change in their communities. It did leave me with a greater sense of placemaking which influenced my work thereafter. Revisiting the book to write this recommendation, I find the eleven principles of placemaking still resonate with me and have become almost second nature now and add to my perspectives on social change (like #1: the community is the expert).
I recommend The Great Neighorhood Book to anyone looking to create social change in their communities and need ideas – particularly if there is an actual issue in the community you feel needs to be acted upon. This book can serve as inspiration or a guide, while introducing you to placemaking. I also suggest looking at the PPS website for more, since this book is just an introduction to what they do.
Conclusively, though this book is not a how-to book on all things placemaking, it serves like a Pinterest board to give you the ideas and inspiration you need to fuel yourself to take action. It’s especially worth the read for people who see issues and want to take action in their own neighborhoods.