12 useful books and articles on qualitative research methods

5 minutes read

Guest author: Viktorija Priļenska (Tallinn University of Technology)

This blog post is intended for PhD students who are in the first year of their studies, and have not been involved in the qualitative research before, as well as for those switching from studies of technical and applied nature, such as architecture, to the studies of sociological and theoretical nature, like urban studies and planning. The blog post provides an overview of some essential books and articles on qualitative research methods, which you MUST read upon commencing your research journey.

The books and articles on research methodology will illuminate your path towards the appropriate research design. Research design is the foundation of your research, which determines the quality of the inquiry and its findings in terms of reliability and validity. I recommend you to start with at least one book which gives a general overview of accepted research methods, and continue with a few books and articles which focus on a specific research method of your choice. I also recommend you to register on web platforms ResearchGate and Academia, as through these platforms you are able to download a lot of publications, which are usually available solely through the university library. Bearing in mind that books on research methods are quite expensive and that PhD students are always short of money, I have provided the links to the web platforms, from where you can download some books and articles on research methods for free in the electronic format.


1) Saunders, Mark, Philip Lewis and Adrian Thornhill, “Research methods for Business Students (book, 5th edition, 2009, available from Academia).

The must-read book which provides a short and clear overview of research design process, from shaping your research topic and reviewing the literature to research philosophy, strategies (or approaches), data collection and analysis techniques. Although the book is long, it is an easy reading intended for undergraduate students (and used by graduate students) with multiple examples. Furthermore, it is not necessary to read the whole book, but rather a selection of chapters, which are relevant for your research. The essential chapters, in my opinion, are: chapter 3 on reviewing the literature, chapter 4 on research philosophy and chapter 5 on research design.

2) Creswell, John W., “Qualitative Inquiry & Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches(book, 3rd edition, 2013, available from Academia).

This is a classic book on qualitative research methods in sociology, which focuses on narrative, phenomenological, grounded theory, ethnographic and case studies. The highlight of the book is chapter 11, where the author describes how one and the same phenomenon is tackled by each of the five aforementioned research approaches.

3) Mason, Jennifer, “Qualitative Researching (book, 2nd edition, 2002, available here)

While other authors distinguish between qualitative and quantitative research methods, as well as differentiate research strategies (or approaches), Mason adopts holistic and flexible way of researching. Mason suggests that qualitative research benefits from some quantitative input and vice versa, thus, advocating for mixed methods. Instead of classifying research strategies (and approaches), Mason focuses on data collection and analysis techniques, such as interviews, observations and visual representations (photographs, videos, spatial organisation, “cognitive maps”, etc.). I find Mason’s approach and, specifically, her focus on visual representations, quite useful for planning research.

4) Mason, Jeniffer (2006) “Mixing methods in a qualitatively driven way (article, 2006, available from SAGE Journals)

In her article Mason explains, how does qualitative research benefit from mixing methods, encouraging the researcher to think “outside the box”, build the relationships between macro theories and micro interactions and experiences, as well as extend and complement the logic of enquiry through cross-contextual comparisons. This inspiring article will support your arguments for choosing a mixed method approach.

5) Creswell, John, and Vicki L. Plano Clark, “Designing and Conducting Mixed Method Research (ebook, 3rd edition, 2018, available from here; chapter 3 of the book is available from SAGE).

This book elaborates on the design and application of mixed methods, taking Mason’s arguments further. The authors explore the relationships between qualitative and qualitative methods, as well as the organisation of the mixed method research, introducing the notions of convergent, sequential, embedded, transformative and multiphase research design (chapter 3).

6) Charmaz, Kathy, “Constructing Grounded Theory: A Practical Guide through Qualitative Analysis (book, 1st edition, 2006, available from here).

One of the research strategies (or approaches) within qualitative research is referred to as Grounded Theory. This is a holistic research strategy which guides you from framing your research questions, through to data collection and analysis procedures, and writing and presenting your findings. This strategy aims to develop the theory from the data and usually draws upon the array of 20-30 lengthy interviews with the actors experiencing the phenomenon in question. There are several approaches towards Grounded Theory, which are elaborated in Saunders et al. (1) and Creswell (2). Charmaz advocates a flexible, “subjective” approach, which reveals the multiplicity and diversity of realities experienced by the actors and, in her own terms, is somewhat “suggestive, incomplete and inconclusive”.

7) Corbin, Juliet, and Anselm Strauss, “Grounded Theory Research: Procedures, Canons, and Evaluative Criteria (article, 1990, available from Springer Link; the book, published in 2015, is available here).

Corbin and Strauss represent a rigid and “objective” approach towards Grounded Theory, suggesting the frame for coding procedures culminating into the conditional matrix which enables to identify micro and macro conditions that shape the phenomenon in question. The aforementioned article offers a sneak preview into their approach. There is also a book on the same topic (it is merely about Grounded Theory, rather than about qualitative research, as the title suggests).

8) Wolfswinkel, Joost F., Elfi Furtmueller and Celeste P. M. Wilderom, “Using grounded theory as a method for rigorously reviewing literature (article, 2011, available from ResearchGate).

Almost every research approach in contemporary academia (except for Grounded Theory) starts with reviewing the literature. However, there is little guidance as how to conduct the review, summarise and report the findings. Wolfswinkel et al. suggest an approach based on the Grounded Theory of Strauss & Corbin to pursue a systematic and transparent inquiry into the published research, which builds on and extends the existing theory. I highly recommend you to go through the article before (or while) reviewing the literature, as this approach will help you to produce a rigorous and meaningful review worth of journal publications.

9) Yin, Robert K., “Case Study Research: Design and Methods (book, 5th edition, 2014, available from here).

One of the most popular approaches (or strategies) in planning research is case studies. It is a method of inquiry that allows you to understand the relationships between the phenomenon and its context, as well as to use multiple data sources, collection and analysis techniques. The classic books by Yin, continuously republished and extensively cited, will guide you through designing and conducting the case studies.

10) Flyvbjerg, Bent, “Case Study (book chapter, 2011, available from Academia)

An exemplary case study in urban studies was conducted by Flyvbjerg and resulted into the book “Rationality and Power: Democracy in Practice” (book chapter, 2003, available from ResearchGate), where the author examines the Aalborg city planning initiative and interprets it as a metaphor for modernity. In his short article on case studies, Flyvbjerg debunks the misunderstandings about case studies and argues that the case study approach is useful for “generating and testing hypothesis”, and, also, may drive the development of scientific theories, as in the case of famous experiment with the falling coin and feather inside the vacuum tube.

11) Coghlan, David, and Teresa Brannick, “Doing Action Research in Your Organisation (book, 2nd edition, 2005, available from here).

If you are planning to research the domain of community engagement (aka public participation, civic involvement, etc.), then I recommend you to consider action research, also referred to as “live case study”. It is a research approach where the researcher works in collaboration with other actors, pursuing to change current practices. If you are unsure about the relevance of action research to your topic or do not feel like reading the whole book, then you may go through a short article on the same topic by Coughlan, Paul, and David Coghlan, “Action Research for Operations Management (article, 2002, available from ResearchGate).

12) Groat, Linda, and David Wang, “Architectural Research Methods (book, 2nd edition, 2013, available from here).

Last but not least, the book which explores research methods specific to the domain of architecture. It includes chapters on qualitative research and case studies, as well as on quasi-experiments and simulations.

Wishing you an insight-rich PhD journey!


vp_portrait 200xViktorija Prilenska (web, ResearchGate) is a PhD candidate at Tallinn University of Technology, architect and urban planner, as well as a co-founder, board member and project manager at NGO Urban Narratives. Viktorija holds a Diploma in Architecture from Riga Technical University (2009) and a Master of Science in Urbanism from Delft University of Technology (2012). Her PhD research deals with games for better community engagement in urban planning. Her research interests, also, include planning for sustainable mobility and energy, city branding, and the use of natural phenomena for shaping the built environment. Her professional competences encompass spatial planning from neighbourhood to city, development of building regulations, interior design, design of outdoor structures, and building refurbishment. She is interested in networking with fellow researchers, planners and architects, and for developing research and practice related collaborations.


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Placemaking and Climate Resilience

Read time: 3 minutes

Author: Konstantina Vidou (UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network – Youth)

One could argue that the relationship between placemaking and climate adaptation is becoming more apparent and increasingly important, in an era of increased precipitation, flooding, fires and droughts. But what exactly is placemaking? And how can it contribute to increased urban climate resilience?

Placemaking is an overarching idea, as well as a hands-on tool for improving a neighborhood, city or region (PPS, n.d.; CFC, n.d.). With community-based participation at its center, effective placemaking processes prioritize the assets of local communities and their potential, resulting in the creation of quality public spaces that contribute to people’s health, happiness, and well-being. Project for Public Spaces (PPS) asked people what placemaking means to them: “a crucial and deeply-valued process for those who feel intimately connected to the places in their lives.” Placemaking is an approach that allows people to re-imagine and acknowledge the potential of everyday spaces  (PPS, n.d.). 

Connecting placemaking to urban climate resilience lies in the importance of public space design as a climate adaptation measure. As Katherine Peinhardt highlights, “public spaces are where physical and social resilience meet.” Cities have been investing in green and grey strategies for climate change adaptation, but the placemaking approach brings the human factor into the equation of achieving climate resilience (Peinhardt, 2019). This additional layer enhances the kind of social networks that are fundamental in order for cities, regions and areas to be able to recover from climate-related disasters. 

Public space design in the scope of urban design, climate change and that of user-based adaptation. Image source: Nouri & Costa (2017)

Placemakers from all over the world are using networks such as Placemaking X and Placemaking Europe, in order to collectively test out placemaking tools and ideas that can help shape better, resilient and sustainable cities. This gave room for the Tooltest Day Initiative; a concept of collective development in the European Placemaking network. Tooltest Day relies on the idea that placemaking tools should be accessible for all the stakeholders involved in the process. The goal of this initiative is to create a platform for testing different tools, while applying and using them in individual projects, in different locations. Placemake Earth Challenge will be organized as another tool-testing moment sometime in April 2020, honouring the 50th anniversary of Earth Week celebration in collaboration with placemaking all around the globe. 

Earth Day was a unified response to an environmental crisis. On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans went out on the streets of hundreds of cities, protesting against environmental ignorance, and demanding a new approach for the protection of our planet. The celebration of the first Earth Day was the catalyst of the modern environmental movement.  The importance of this day is highlighted by the fact that in 2016, the United Nations chose Earth Day as the day to sign the Paris Agreement on climate change (Earth Day, n.d.).

A continuation of the “Tooltest Day” initiative is aligned with Placemake Earth Challenge, which will include a number of knowledge-packed webinars. The webinar I attended on March 27th addressed the theme of ‘Placemaking for Climate Resilience’. Participants had the unique opportunity to listen to an amazing line of keynote speakers, such as: Tina Nandi Stephens & Anca Florescu Abraham, Founders of LYPMumbai; Fred Kent, Founder of Project for Public Spaces and coordinator of the first Earth Day celebration in the streets of New York; Katherine A. Peinhardt, German Chancellor Fellow supported by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and hosted by the German Development Institute, and Adam Curtis, project manager at Nabolagshager, based in Oslo.

Placemake Earth Challenge Webinar. Image source: Ryan Smolar

The topic of this webinar was the connection between climate change and public spaces, and how we, as placemakers, can contribute to tackling this issue, while creating better cities for people to work, play and live in. 

How do you see the relationship between these two topics manifesting in your own context?


Konstantina Vidou is an un urban planner from Greece, with experience in research and placemaking, gained through her year abroad in The Netherlands, while working at the Center of Expertise and Social Innovation, and STIPO; an area development company that focuses on placemaking and participatory processes for creating better cities. You can contact her at konstantinavidou@gmail.com. 


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COVID-19 and climate resilience: Effective disaster prevention and management practices 

Read time: 7 minutes

Guest author: Olga Chepelianskaia (UNICITI)

Editor’s note: This post shares the findings of two related articles that link the current crisis with climate resilience. These investigate: 1) human encroachment into natural ecosystems; and 2) resilience planning in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore.

As we’ve crossed 1 million cases of COVID-19, entire countries and cities are locked
down. Hashtags #SocialDistancing and #FlattenTheCurve have hit top popularity. Our
lifestyles shattered, we can only wonder how we could have possibly avoided this crisis and what structural elements can help us not only emerge from it, but also prevent  future disasters of different kinds.

COVID-19 and sustainable development - Effective crisis management practices - Olga Chepelianskaia - 7.04.20

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 Source: ​Our World In Data

Looking at the elements that led to the crisis, we realised that these are closely related
to the way we interact with our ​natural ecosystems. And, looking at how the crisis is
handled at its best, we saw that ​the same elements allow the same countries to
successfully mitigate climate change effects.​ Two articles below shared our findings.

Human encroachment into natural ecosystems

Did you know that 60% of emerging infectious diseases affecting humans are zoonotic?
This means they originate in animals. And, importantly, over 2/3 of these originate in
wildlife. Peter Daszak, a disease ecologist and the president of ​EcoHealth​, states that
every emerging disease in the last 40 years came from ​human encroachment into
wildlands​. For example:

– Nipah Virus​ pilled over from fruit bats when the forest was cleared for pig farming​;
– Ebola Virus outbreaks often are linked to hunting for “bushmeat” or to mining
– Hendra Virus caused the death of 4 people and dozens of horses in Australia after
suburbanization lured infected bats.

India human encroachment

The link between deforestation and health diseases in India
Source:​DTE/CSE Data Centre 

This learning makes it imperative for us to ​manage our natural ecosystems with care
and sensitivity in order to prevent the blowout of these diseases and to keep them from
turning into pandemics. And this is equally valid to prevent climate change effects.
Southeast Asia lost over 30 % of its forest cover in recent years and this deforested land
is being used for urban growth and intensive cultivation, thus bringing us in close
proximity to wildlife. In other words, urban expansion at the cost of natural ecosystems
is a very dangerous approach. Here, let’s look at the approach adopted by the ​One 
Health Initiative​:

1.  The initiative ​locates disease hotspots based on how people alter the landscape and
maps human encroachment, say a new farm or a road developed in a forest area. This
helps locate where the next diseases are likely to spill over into humans.

2. It spreads awareness about these locations so that preventive planning measures are
taken and a disease outbreak is avoided.

crossing over to humans

Geographical location of events where a disease has crossed over from animals to humans
Source: ​International Livestock Research Institute

It is the need of the hour that we collectively go further and prevent such harmful
encroachments from happening. We need to ensure that we don’t destroy natural
ecosystems for short term gains. Not only do we create a ​healthier and safer living
environment when doing so, we also leverage ​numerous co-benefits such as
recreational and cohesive natural public spaces in cities or cost effectiveness
compared to heavy engineering solutions to deal with climate threats.

Further reading and links on this topic: 

Preparing for and handling emergencies: Learning from Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan

Epidemic preparedness starts years before an outbreak. So does climate change
preparedness. ​Interestingly, there’s a lot in common between the two. Hong Kong,
Singapore and Taiwan are all located near mainland China. Given their close proximity
to the COVID- 19 epicentre, these could have been by now greatly affected. However,
this is not the case. As of 7 April, Hong Kong had 936 confirmed cases and 4 deaths;
Singapore has 1,375 confirmed cases and 6 deaths, and Taiwan has 376 confirmed
cases and 5 deaths.

Climate adaptation action too shows commendable achievements:

  • HONG KONG ​Landslides reduced by ​75% through the ​Landslide Prevention and
    Mitigation Programme (LPMitP)​;
  • SINGAPORE ​Flood-prone area reduced from ​3,178 ha in the 1970s to 34 ha in 2013
    while average temperature and mean sea level increased;
  • TAIWAN ​Typhoon Soudelor (2015) generated 10 times fewer deaths than Typhoon
    Morakot (2009) as a result of the ​National Climate Adaptation Policy Guidelines
    focused on non-structural interventions.

Singapore green

Singapore’s green and blue spaces – land-use plan 2030.
Source: ​NCCS

Building on the learnings of our publication on ​Ecosystem-Based Climate Resilience
through Land Use Regulations in Asian Cities​, we at UNICITI examined parallels
between how these countries handle climate change and the epidemic. We found the
following similarities:

Dedicated authority in charge

As per the Global Health Security Index, 131 countries are least prepared to respond to
an epidemic. Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan learned from SARS in 2003 and kept a
dedicated national authority in charge of health crises till today: ​Center for Health
Protection (CHP) in Hong Kong​, Quarantine and Epidemiology Department in Singapore
and​ ​National Health Command Centre NHCC in Taiwan​.

Similar structures are in place for climate adaptation. For Hong Kong, a three-tier
emergency response system – Hong Kong Emergency Response System for Natural and
Man-Made Disasters ​- ​are in place since 1996. Similarly, Taiwan has Central Disaster
Prevention and Preparedness Council in Taiwan.

​Acting in advance versus in response

By 1 February, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan had all proactively implemented
travel restrictions on passengers coming from mainland China, despite the WHO then
claimed travel bans were not necessary. Similarly, Integrated Ecological Urbanism and
Green Strategies were in place as early as the 1960s in Singapore.

hong kong

Framework for sustainable landuse – Hong Kong landuse map
Source: ​ASCE Library

Proactive data collection

Learning from the SARS outbreak, ​Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan developed
testing capacity for new viruses as well as hospitals’ ability to handle patients with
novel respiratory pathogens. Consequently, Singapore detects 3 times more cases than
the global average.

In climate change, governments established climate data processing
observatories/institutions such as:

  • The Hong Kong Observatory​,​ ​established in 1988, is responsible for monitoring
    and forecasting the weather, as well as issuing warnings on weather-related
  • Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS)​ ​commenced in 2013. It monitors and
    projects climate in the country, does risk and impact assessment of natural
    environmental hazards​;
  • Climate Change Projections and Information Platform Project, Taiwan​ ​was
    launched in 2013. It is a user-friendly service platform providing data on
    observed and projected climate change.

Comprehensive data produced by these agencies helps stakeholders conduct a detailed
analysis of the changing climate and take preventive measures or develop
adaptation/mitigation policies.

Further reading on this topic:


What can we conclude here? ​A country well prepared for one kind of a disaster is often
prepared for other kinds of disasters too. ​Because it is a matter of awareness followed
by dedicated and proactive strategies and institutional setups. These offer effective
measures to dampen the impact of the various crises we are yet to face – be it a matter
of global health or of a climate-related disaster at hand. We too have the potential of
achieving a symbiosis between urban development and natural ecosystems we take so
much from. Could this ongoing outbreak set further precedence and turn the tide on the
unsustainable urban development practices? Let us know your thoughts.


Olga_profile_pic_200xOlga Chepelianskaia is principal consultant and founder at UNICITI. Olga has international technical field experience in over 20 Asian cities and 40 Asian countries, conducted in the frame of programs and projects implemented for a number of international development institutions such as the ADB, CDIA, UNECE, UNEP, UN ESCAP or UNDP.

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Games for better planning and participation

Read time: 5 minutes

Guest Author: Viktorija Priļenska (Tallinn University of Technology)

Games entered the planning domain in the 1960s. Early games focused on simulating the relationship between urban policies and regulations, land-uses, population dynamics, infrastructures and ecology (e.g. CLUG by Allan Feldt and Metropolis by Richard Duke). In the course of development, games diversified their repertoire, focusing, among other topics, on participatory design and planning (e.g. Design Games by Henry Sanoff). Games, which pursue involving stakeholders in all sorts of participation exercises are referred to in the current article as “participatory games”. Due to their structured goal-oriented nature, fairness and transparency ensuing from the rules, games are capable of becoming efficient participation methods at certain planning phases. The post provides a summary of the article on potential applications of participatory games in planning. The full article is available at the author’s Research Gate profile.

Crowdsourcing games

Increasing global connectivity and digital literacy among all social groups gave rise to online crowdsourcing games, which enable sourcing and sharing geo-referenced content, such as images and text. Online crowdsourcing games employ either web platforms (e.g. CommunityPlanIt!), or applications for mobile devices (e.g. Täsä). Provided the Internet connection, online tools enable sharing content any time and from any location, for instance, while waiting for a bus at the bus stop, thus, reaching out to larger number of participants (e.g., 1,043 players in Community PlanIt! game in Detroit and 780 players in Täsä game in Turku) and involving the usually underrepresented groups, such as young adults. The players’ experiences of the environment captured through online crowdsourcing games can potentially contribute to the knowledge base for the forthcoming spatial plans and policies.


Täsä smartphone game for sourcing and sharing planning ideas among the residents of Turku.
Image source: Apkpure.

Data generation games

As as spin-off of the core activity, which is outlined in the game narrative, location-based leisure activities and games generate planning relevant data. If correlated with other GIS data, the generated data may provide insights into various topics, such as outdoor recreation preferences (Geocaching), hyperlocal places (Ingress), public space qualities (Pokémon Go), and places of interest for the youth (Urban Shaper. Data generation games are potentially useful in the context of decreasing participation rates, as well as while stated and actual preferences about the environment diverge.

Pervasive games

Games, which transcend the boundaries of the game, the “magic circle”, and invade into public spaces or involve outsiders, are referred to as “pervasive”. The interest in “pervasiveness” in relation to participation was fueled by the success of commercial location-based leisure activities and games, discussed in the previous section. Non-commercial pervasive games, designed for participatory purposes, vary from multi-player to single-player games. Multi-player games, such as Big Urban Game and ZWERM, transform the public space into playground, pursuing community building and awareness raising about urban issues. Single-player games, like Geo-Zombie and Change Explorer, encourage certain location-based actions, aiming to collect spatial data, as well as to attract new participants by means of game elements.


Big Urban Game pervasive game. Player teams racing trough Twin Cities Minneapolis and Saint Paul with inflatable game pieces. Image source: Katie Salen.

Deliberative games

Communication in traditional participatory methods, such as surveys and public hearings, is usually limited to one- and two-way information exchange, where participants state their positions. Furthermore, such interactions are usually unstructured and dominated by the narratives of the vociferous individuals or groups. Due to their regulated nature, board games foster structured small-group deliberation between players enabling dialogue building and diversification of narratives (e.g. Community Conversational). Role-play games, in turn, encourage players to take on unusual roles, thus, practicing the art of reasoning and arguing from the perspective, which is different from their own (e.g. Play Noord). The latter enables players to transcend the boundaries of their positions and develop empathy towards alternative perspectives.


Play Noord role-play board game for creating collective vision for Overhoeks neighbourhood in Amsterdam Noord. Image source: Play the City.

Educational games

A share of participatory games focuses on education with no intention to produce planning related outcomes. In-game learning represents a set of progressive challenges with continuous support and instant customised feedback enabling active learning (or learning by doing), which is believed to be more efficient than passive learning (e.g. lecturing). Games provide space for experimentation, which allows exploring a range of choices and their ramifications without facing real-life undesirable consequences in case of failure and receiving in-game reward in case of success. Participation games may play out real-life situations by setting challenges and modelling possible responses, and, thus, prepare players for real-life action (e.g. Water Management Game).

Co-designed games

Participatory games usually create frameworks for collective design activities, but rarely invite players to shape these frameworks. Traditional literature on game design advocates for a completed unambiguous set of rules as a prerequisite for any game. Emerging literature on game design explores the opportunities for game co-design. The latter, arguably, aligns games with players’ preferences, mitigates the knowledge gaps (especially, if a game tackles controversial issues) and enables civic learning. Game co-design sessions encourage players to play around with a barebones game prototype, populating it with narratives and rules (e.g. Energy Safari, City Makers, Participation Game). It is essential, that co-design sessions involve either perspective players or players with relevant professional knowledge.

Games throughout the planning cycle

To sum up, participatory games exhibit potential to be applied in all planning phases, from initiation to maintenance. In the initiation phase games may source information from the residents, thus, building the foundation for the forthcoming plan or policy. In the design phase games may aid in developing and negotiating planning decisions through deliberation. By fostering community cohesion, games may shape actor networks, which facilitate implementation of plans and policies, as well as the maintenance of new public spaces. Furthermore, through education and co-design games enable understanding, questioning and reshaping current planning concepts, leading to the more efficient planning and participation in the future.



Viktorija Prilenska is a PhD candidate at Tallinn University of Technology, architect and urban planner, as well as a co-founder, board member and project manager at NGO Urban Narratives. Viktorija holds a Diploma in Architecture from Riga Technical University (2009) and a Master of Science in Urbanism from Delft University of Technology (2012). Her PhD research deals with games for better community engagement in urban planning. Her research interests, also, include planning for sustainable mobility and energy, city branding, and the use of natural phenomena for shaping the built environment. Her professional competences encompass spatial planning from neighbourhood to city, development of building regulations, interior design, design of outdoor structures, and building refurbishment. She is interested in networking with fellow researchers, planners and architects, and for developing research and practice related collaborations.

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Digital adaptations & reflections: from people to planet

Read time: 5 minutes

In a time of global crisis, the digital keeps us connected and providing us opportunities to adapt and reflect both individually and collectively. This post shares some digital adaptations and reflections that stretch from the individual to the global level, with relevance to spatial planning and construction. 

The current global crisis reveals both significant gaps and opportunities for more resilient spatial planning and collaboration in our highly networked world. Physical places and space are out of reach for many of us at the moment, while others are busy keeping essential services or tending the sick. At the same time, the digital is keeping us connected as never before. It is expected that digital and mixed reality solutions will grow in the near and medium future, and help us to further manage ourselves, collaborate with others, as well as visualise, navigate, analyse, manage and shape places and spaces remotely and/or on site. Digital adaptations are here to stay, and grow.

Individual adaptations

Mindfulness. At the very individual level, one of the best thing to do in times of crisis, besides observing public health guidelines, is to keep calm. Mindfulness apps can guide or support you in restoring inner calm and focus, particularly if you are not used to activities like meditation.

Online learning. Online learning and teaching can be expected to boom in the near future. This can range from growing demand for MOOC platforms (e.g. Coursera, Udemy, FutureLearn, CodeAcademy, and many others) to universities likely developing advanced learning platforms for their own students. Many websites also provide resources to improve soft skills, such as Mind Tools, among many others.

Tools for collaboration & events

For academics and professionals, online collaboration is a clear adaptation to working from home. Collaboration and mixed reality tools are of vital importance for professionals in architecture, engineering and construction. People in all industries will increasingly rely on collaboration such as Trello and Microsoft Teams, discussion tools such as Slack, and  and video-conferencing tools such as Zoom.

Events and meetings can still be done virtually through platforms such as Second Life. Already in 2009, Marcus Foth explored the possibilities for the second life of urban planning through a range of ‘neogeography’ tools that facilitate participation of even the less tech-savvy. To these we can add various online serious gaming

Neighbourhood apps

NextDoor is a leading neighbourhood-based app in several countries around the world, enabling residents to share information and help each other, which is acutely useful in this time of pandemic. In France specifically, a number of neighbourhod-based apps are flourishing to promote social life, inclusion, and mutual help between neighbours, such as Ensembl’, Ma Vie de Quartier, or Smiile. Ensembl’ also fosters partnerships with local authorities and housing professionals.

Digital spatial planning & construction

The current crisis has left its mark on the planning and construction industries. Diana Budds on Curbed traces the capacity of spatial planning to handle epidemics from a historical perspective, starting with Ancient Greece, and discusses implications for the current crisis. Resilient urban design is the key to managing wide-sweeping crises, although clearly there is no simple way to do this. The impact on the world economy will be felt. From a UK perspective, construction sites and manufacturing are encouraged to keep going so long as workers can work safely.

Construction. the growing digitalisation of design, workflows, information and processes is exemplified in Building Information Modelling (BIM). In an ideal world, BIM models enable stakeholders and clients to collaborate and manage physical assets seamlessly over the course of a building or infrastructure’s life cycle. Improved collaboration and integration of information, data and processes through BIM can only be expected to grow. Building contractors worldwide are also reaping the benefits of various forms of digital data collection (e.g. Skanska). Regarding environmental assessment, Royal Haskonig DHV leverage a digital format for Environmental Impact Statements. In short, all aspects of the built environment are undergoing intensive digitisation.

Spatial Planning. 3D visualisation tools such as OpenCities (CityPlanner) can be used for internal project management within planning departments, as well as to enable various forms of citizen participation in many Swedish cities. In a former post, Enzo Falco and Reinout Kleinhans shared a comprehensive list of digital participatory platforms that can help support citizen participation in spatial planning. More generally, the tech sector is becoming increasingly pervasive in the shaping of cities, from Google’s Alphabet in Toronto’s Waterfront, to swathes of sensors and increasingly interconnected ICTs as the backbone of smart cities where planners could (or should) take the driving seat. A BIM approach to cities can also be upscaled to entire cities, placing spatial planners as key market actors, which would rely on an extensive spatial data model.

Digital Twins: a tale of two cities. Building on the above, a related trend in both architecture, planning, engineering and construction is the emergence of digital twins. Digital twins are digital replica of physical entities, which can include buildings, cities or even entire countries. In the UK, for example, the Infrastructure Client Group (part of the Institution of Civil Engineers), is working with the Cambridge-based Centre for Digital Built Britain to produce a digital twin for the whole of Britain. The latter can be integrated in smart city strategies. Virtual and digital twins are readily used in urban planning, for the production of plans as well as citizen engagement, drawing on game tech such as Minecraft, or the aforementioned digital platforms for citizen participation. The city of Rotterdam is actively building a digital twin of the city, which could be coupled with insight from open data and the analytical powers of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Among many others, other cities include Virtual Singapore, or Amaravati, the new capital of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, which is thought to be the first entire city born with a digital twin.

As the built environment and cities becoming increasingly digitised, the line between digital and physical realities will become increasingly porous and… virtual. Our world is increasingly one of mixed reality, as presented in a former post on hybridity in placemaking. 

Picture of mixed reality event in Boston, 2006.

A mixed reality event in Boston as early as 2006, hosted in . One of many examples of mixed reality applications. Mixed reality: the new norm for urban dwellers and professionals within the spatial planning, design and construction industries? Picture credit: Beth Kanter on Flickr, Generic CC Attribution.


Our planet has a digital twin too. Google Earth enables you to see the whole world in 2D and/or 3D on the web, and also to learn about places. When you can’t go places physically, the web always allows you to visit them virtually. 

The digital is also used for surveillance worldwide. The current crisis bears implications for democracy, governance, public health, privacy and urban security at the global level. In a recent article in the Financial Times, Noal Yuvah Harari maps the authoritarian dangers and democratic opportunities of the world after covid-19, demonstrating that the way we respond globally to the covid-19 crisis can have lasting effects for the years to come.  Harari identifies two main possible scenarios: one toward global disunity and mass-surveillance, and another toward global solidarity. We should be conscious of the implications of each.

To conclude, resources such as Yann Arthus Bertrand’s Human and Planet Ocean, and David Attenborough‘s lifetime worth of fascinating documentaries (e.g. Seven Worlds, One Planet), remind us of the preciousness and wonders of life on earth, and of the interdependence between all humans. As we continue to adapt digitally, we cannot afford to lose sight of the precious planet which sustains all life, and of our fellow human neighbours, past, present and future.


Posted in Uncategorized, Planning, city, and society, Sustainability and resilience, Beyond planning, Academia, research quality and assessment, Community engagement, Resilience, Disaster management | 1 Comment

Top 10 blog posts on the YA blog

Read time: 2 minutes

This post celebrates the top ten blog posts published on the blog of the AESOP Young Academics network since its launch in 2014. It does so by way of a traditional list of the top ten posts which generated the most views. 

The top 10 individual posts that generated the most views are:

Picture of mural street art with empty red chair with floating red umbrella

‘And the winner is…’ All time highest views concern reflections about the future of PhD students in Italian academia. Picture credit: Street art by Albenty in Montpellier Hill, Dublin, photo by William Murphy on Flickr, CC Attribution-ShareAlike.

While the number of views of individual posts can be a sign of their popularity, other posts that have received less traction display an opportunity to generate greater interest over time. This can be true for all types of creative content. Remember Van Gogh? In 2017, the Van Gogh Museum saw 2.26 million visitors, making it the most visited museum in the Netherlands!

So do make use of the YA blog as a repository of invaluable research insight, and browse former posts for hidden gems!!


Looking out from the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam – an immensely popular museum dedicated to a world-famous artist who only gained his fame posthumously. So it is with all creative content. Picture credit: Martin Wehrle on Flickr, Attribution-ShareAlike CC


Continue reading

Posted in Academia, research quality and assessment, Beyond planning, Blogging, Dissemination, outreach, communication, Economy, PhD process, Planning, city, and society, Resilience, Resources, Sustainability and resilience, Technology, Territory, landscape, land, Uncategorized, VIVA | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shining at the VIVA

Read time: 7-8 minutes

Following up on a previous post entitled “Preparing to shine at the VIVA“, this post distils some common gems of advice to help you prepare in the last days before, and during the VIVA. The VIVA is your time to shine! So make sure you thoroughly review your thesis, sleep plenty, eat well, perfect your smouldering gaze, and always keep the forest in sight (without getting lost in the trees). 

Trusting the Doctor within

In my previous post, I shared some useful tips which helped me prepare for my own VIVA (at Northumbria University in Newcastle, UK). To recap: you need to know your Contribution to Knowledge inside out and practice all you can, so that you can hope for the best, and shine your brightest light at the VIVA.

But at the end of the day, every VIVA is unique, and there is only so much you can prepare. Which is why what you do in the last run-up to the VIVA matters a lot.

Rather than cramming in every bit of knowledge about your thesis in your fatigued and anxious brain, you may benefit more from sleeping, exercising and eating wholesome, nutritious food. Get every positive bit of inspiration you can. Reconnect to why you embarked on a PhD in the first place. Trust with good faith that the Doctor within you will shine out, as she/he deserves to!! By this stage, your only alternative is to surf the wave and make the VIVA enjoyable for the examiners and yourself.

Creative art design showing Nessie (i.e. the Loch Ness Monster) saying: 'The important things is that I believe in myself'

Your PhD is of real value: believe in the Doctor within. Don’t let the imposter syndrome fool you, says Nessie (i.e. the Loch Ness monster). Design credit: David Olenick (follow the artist on Instagram). 

Keep calm, and shine on

If you are defending a VIVA in public (where just about anyone can come), prepare to be intimated by the presence of a large crowd as well as your external examiner! If your external examiner is a super star academic, she/he may perhaps enjoy playing to the gallery.

abstract blackboard bulb chalk

Get ready to shine! Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Regardless of whether your VIVA is ‘public’ or ‘closed’, your examiners will (gently) pour some oil on the fire. They will question the core of what your thesis is trying to convey. You may falter because you are: a) sleep deprived; b) stressed; c) low on caffeine; d) high on caffeine; e) or you had hoped you knew what was coming; and/or f) you have momentarily forgetten the difference between ‘data‘, ‘information‘, and ‘knowledge‘; or between ‘space‘ and ‘place‘; or between ‘epistemology‘ and ‘ontology‘… Or what have you. You can always ask for a break to buy some time to breathe, think, or sketch an answer.

In all circumstances, keep calm, and carry on. Speak clearly and concisely, and avoid beating around the bush. 

Walking a fine line

If you ever find yourself in a hole or in quicksands, don’t dig yourself deeper. Lest you want to make it your grave…

Avoid being over-defensive, or losing your temper, which never yield good results anyway (you see it in daily life too!). Don’t blame others or circumstances. Own up to what you did. Saying “I don’t know” can be more redeeming than “Wasn’t me!. Defend what needs to be defended, and let go of the rest. Even the best PhD theses feature limitations. Take all criticism and comments constructively, not personally. 

Quicksand by Dave Wild taken2007 Flickr

Stay safe and avoid any quicksand zones during the VIVA – never make matters worse, and don’t expose yourself to unnecessary trouble! Picture credit: Dave Wilde on Flickr, Non-Commercial CC Attribution.

A related pitfall is to tell the story of your whole PhD. The VIVA is about defending your thesis, not everything that led to it. Think of yourself as a craftsman and the thesis as your cathedral or iconic building. The examiners are examining the end product. Speaking about the scaffolding(s) might open one or several cans of worms. Good luck with putting the worms back in!

The other extreme is to shoot yourself in the foot. Who in their sane mind would do that? If you are a perfectionist, or carefree during the VIVA, you might surprise yourself! Likelihood is: you will not quite feel like your normal self. But no matter how strong the temptation, don’t pull at the loose ends of your thesis. The examiners will gladly do it for you! And hopefully they will omit some of patchy ends of your thesis in the process. I am delighted my examiners spotted lots of embarrassing omissions and unresolved issues in my thesis. It made the VIVA fun! Happy, too, that they did not probe other weak spots in thesis. But I did have to fight my honesty instinct, disguised as the vile-faced imposter syndrome that plagues so many PhD candidates and professionals. I did not pull the trigger, which meant I was able to walk free, with happy feet, by the end of it.

So successfully defending the VIVA is about treading a fine line between ‘fight’ and ‘flight’, or between over-defending and chickening out. To subvertly paraphrase Bob Marley: neither shoot the sheriff nor the deputee. The VIVA is a nonviolent dealing! Nor should you try to take the money and run. There is nowhere to hide or escape. Instead, stand tall and stand your ground, with calm assertiveness, gratitude and humility. As with many things in life, the middle way (beyond extremes) is always the most difficult path to follow, but it always pay off, and is most sustainable.

Managing the Beast

If you did not come to know yourself during the PhD, you will certainly do so before the VIVA. Two days before the VIVA was one of the worst days in my whole PhD.  I had to face the imposter syndrome (all over again!), and haggle with the unwieldy Beast that had been sabotaging my PhD from Day 1. In fact, the whole PhD sort of felt like one large ugly Beast.

Picture yourself David and Goliath; Sir Bilbo vs. Smaug the dragon sitting on a mountain of gold; or Captain Nemo with the giant octopus in 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. I was experiencing total overwhelm, Armageddon, Mars Attacks, you name it. Hence the following precautionary note of warning: at this stage, you might feel like you wasted 3-5 years of your life embarking on a (potentially low-paid) PhD. Or any number of other silly, useless thoughts. Or there again, you might not experience any of this. 


Remember to breathe and get some fresh air…. The last days before the VIVA might feel like being stuck in a submarine and battling with a giant squid 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Picture credit: engraving in Hetzel edition (1870) of the Jules Verne novel Wikimedia Commons.

The good news (for me, at least) was the acceptance that there is nothing to fight. The ‘Beast’ only exists if it has someone to fight against, and can burn everything on its way. The moment you accept the Beast, you release it. Because it is self-destructive, the Beast actually wants to be liberated.

bilbo and the dragon

Two days before the VIVA: just before crashing into deep slumber, I felt like Sir Bilbo in front the nasty, treasure-keeping dragon. 20+ hours of sleep put the Beast to rest… Call it the beauty sleep if you will. The gold will be yours in the end!

Simplify your life in the run-up to the VIVA, and avoid tangential, time-consuming issues (e.g. “I need to clean the whole flat“). These can be dealt with in their own time, post-VIVA. Remember why you started the PhD in the first place. It will help restore the Super You within.

Media entertainment can also help build confidence and silence your nagging inner demons. If you haven’t already done so, watch Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and practice Dr Bravestone’s smouldering intensity. The worst dragon-beasts will turn to Mickey Mouse. Or you may want to eat more spinach, like PopeyeWhatever works!!

If you must ward off the dragons that be, bring along Ancient Greek hero Achilles, archangel St MichaelGandalf the White, the Avengers (Agent John Steed, and/or the Marvel crew), Batman, the A-TeamMacgyver, your teddy bear… or whichever Source of inspiration and strength that will give you resourcefulness at this critical point in time. A PhD friend in Stockholm has dozens of Minions at her office (i.e. from the animation film Despicable Me): Minions on her desk, pinned on the walls, screensaver, and probably on her key ring too. I have no doubt they will support her at the VIVA, when the day comes. 

Holding the key

So by now, you should know your thesis well enough, have done some practising (e.g. a mock VIVA with your supervisor and your peers), and have a premium self-confidence insurance against dragon damage.

Next: sleep plenty and eat well.

If you have to choose between excessive preparation (i.e. ‘prepare till you drop’) and plentiful rest, choose the latter. Resting will give you strength, confidence and humility to actively engage in that one conversation that will turn you into a doctor.

Good sleep, exercise and wholesome food will keep your head cool and make you stay in the zone. Wholesome nourishment also includes sunlight, positive sensations, feelings of gratitude, and tapping into your trusted sources of quality inspiration. Beware of comfort food, sugar, coffee, and other addictive and over-stimulating substances. 

Preparedness, multiplied by the effects of good rest and wholesome nourishment, will make you to hit the mark.

In a nutshell, the key to a fun, successful VIVA is:


Trust that you will defend the VIVA with both pride, humility and joy. You have the key to unlock the Doctor within. Your hard work will shine, for real. A useful mantra or comforting phrase, in two parts: All is well, that ends well

My VIVA lasted 3 hours (I do babble on). It was intense, but fun! A PhD mate had her VIVA last only 40 minutes: easy-peasy, a box-ticking exercise… Both VIVAs were behind closed doors: two examiners, and the optional presence of the supervisor.

Creative mural of Don Quixota, with some inspiration from the artwork by Dali

It takes the courage and perseverance of Don Quixote to pass a VIVA. Artwork: Quixota, mural by David Charlton for the Shine Mural Festival in St Petersburg, Florida. Picture credit: Terence Faircloth on Flickr, Non-Commercial CC Attribution.

Shine on!

No one will do it for you. Not your supervisor, not your partner, not your friends, nor your relatives.

You may feel like you are an ill-clad gladiator thrown into the pit with the lions, possibly under the gaze of a large intimidating crowd.

But you are not a gladiator. You are a Doctor-in-the-making, ready to shine.

Your VIVA day will be ‘V-day’. Victory lies in 3 main steps:

  1. bring your head along (do not forget it on your pillow), and keep it cool
  2. keep your Contribution to Knowledge fresh and accessible (its different parts, and as a whole)
  3. have enough wholesome liquid and solid nutrition to keep you in the zone, full of beans, and buzzing for the whole VIVA.

Celebration is both the starting point and natural end point of the VIVA experience. You have every reason to shine, and release the doctor within you!

If you want to share insight about how to shine before / during/ after the VIVA, send your blog post or favourite resources to:



Due acknowledgements to my superstar supervisors, Dr James Charlton, and Pfr Ruth Dalton, as well as to Pfr Paul Greenhalgh, for many of the advice and tips mentioned in this blog. Neither a positive VIVA experience, nor this blog post, would have been possible without their continuous support.

Posted in Academia, research quality and assessment, PhD process, Uncategorized, VIVA | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Placemaking: toolkits & books

Read time: 3 minutes

This post is a companion to a previous post: Placemaking: trends & people. This post focuses on toolkits, methods, books and handbooks for effective placemaking in a range of contexts, from healthy streets and neighbourhood planning to risk management. Whether you self-identify as ‘placemaker’ or are just interested in people-friendly places, the following resources can provide some useful material and inspiration for your work as researcher, practitioner and/or volunteer.

The post is structured as follows:

  • Toolkits (for the craft)
  • Books (a small selection)

Toolkits & Repositories of Resources

Placemaking is a craft. The following tools and frameworks can be used for participatory diagnosis, design, management, evaluation and benchmarking of projects.

The Placemaking toolbox, by Placemaking Europe led by Rotterdam-based Stipo. It is an open source resource: help them grow the toolbox! The website hosts a large number of case studies around the world. They are continuously collecting tools from around the world. 

The Place Standard tool helps to measure the quality of places. It assess 14 key aspects of places, covering both physical and social elements. Participants can score each element on a scale from 1-7. It was jointly developed by NHS Health Scotland, the Scottish government and Architecture & Design Scotland. See Architecture & Design Scotland for case studies and a full description of the tool.

The Place Standard tool spider diagram, featuring 14 key elements of places

The Place Standard tool, which allows users to assess the key qualities of places. Picture credit: Place Standard tool, Scottish government.

Similar to the Place Standard Tool, the Healthy Streets approach was deployed by Transport for London which seeks to integrate public space/place, aesthetics and sustainable mobility across the British capital. Among others, data collection and evaluation techniques include a bespoke on-street questionnaire survey, as well as a ‘mystery shopper survey’ to better understand Londoners’ mobility patterns.

The Urban STEP participatory design method is leveraged by Stockholm-based Arken Arkitekter and landscape consultancy Ekologigruppen. The method’s starting point is the specific typologies of places and towns/cities. Alongside participatory modelling, its key tool is the ‘Value Rose’ (värderosen), a 12-spoked spider diagram that comprises ecological, social, physical and economic sustainability elements. The specific components of the Value Rose can be adapted as per context.

Public realm ethnography. To improve places, you need to observe them. This article maps key practical and theoretical issues for immersive research in the public realm, which can support all other toolkits and resources provided here.

The Coordination Cluster is a disaster relief and management framework for collaboration between clusters of humanitarian organisations. It covers the key sectoral aspects of emergency management. As placemaking needs to become more resilient (by force or by choice), it seems opportune to include an emergency management tool here. The Cluster comprises disaster prevention, mitigation, preparedness, disaster response, recovery and reconstruction. It was first used after the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan. See also the comprehensive toolbox and information repository provided by OCHA (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs).

Diagram of Cluster Approach to humanitarian coordination

The Cluster Approach for preventing and responding to emergencies. Picture credit: Humanitarian Response, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).


Some people claim that ‘if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist’.

The Guide to the Healthy Streets Indicators (2017) adopts the Healthy Streets Approach™. It considers 10 different indicators that focus on mobility and street attractiveness. The guide was jointly produced by Transport for London and consultant Lucy Saunders, and is part of the Draft London Plan (2017) and the Mayor’s Transport Strategy (2018).

Community Indicators Consortium provides resources for a wide range of indicators to measure and benchmark communities. The key idea behind community indicators is: you need indicators if you want to measure progress within and between different communities . Check out these ‘happiness‘ indicators, for example.

Participatory design workshops

Participatory 3D modelling. In a development and environmental resource management context, Participatory 3D modelling is a very effective tool in engaging local communities in shaping their living and natural environment. This handbook is authored by Participatory GIS leading expert Giacomo Rambaldi (@iapd on twitter), and is available in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and even Amharic.

Charrettes. A participatory method rather than a tool, charrettes are intensive group-based design workshops. The Whole Building Design Guide gives the full low-down on charrettes. See also the Handbook for Planning and Conducting Charrettes for High-Performance Projects for a (very) comprehensive manual, leveraged by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the US Department of Energy.  

Books & articles

The number and diversity of placemaking resources is growing. Here is a small selection:


Making public places great again: one initiative at a time. Picture credit: Hot Tub Parklet by Paul Krueger on Flickr, Attribution CC.

Share your favourite placemaking resources with: blog@aesop-youngacademics.net.

Posted in Beyond planning, Climate change, Community engagement, Development, Disaster management, Nature, Planning, city, and society, Resources, Sustainability and resilience, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Placemaking: trends & people

Read time: 4-5 minutes

This brief post presents some trends and people that shape the placemaking movement worldwide. See the companion post: Placemaking: toolkits & books. Feel free to contribute more placemaking resources to: blog@aesop-youngacademics.net

The post is structured as such: 

  • Making places (intro)
  • Placemaking Earth (the big picture)
  • Placemaking in North America
  • Placemaking in Europe
  • Beyond placemaking (similar trends)

Making places

The Project for Public Space (PPS) takes on a community perspective to the making of public places. The main focus in on the public realm, rather than private/privatised places.

As both an overarching idea and a hands-on approach for improving a neighborhood, city, or region, placemaking inspires people to collectively reimagine and reinvent public spaces as the heart of every community.

Strengthening the connection between people and the places they share, placemaking refers to a collaborative process by which we can shape our public realm in order to maximize shared value.

More than just promoting better urban design, placemaking facilitates creative patterns of use, paying particular attention to the physical, cultural, and social identities that define a place and support its ongoing evolution.

Placemaking can denote both top-down and community-led initiatives across the private, public and third sector. Its main motto is an apt revamping of the ‘Think Global, Act Local’ slogan of the wave Local Agenda 21s in the 1990s (Remember Rio 1992?). Placemaking initiatives are typically participatory, but may also be associated with contestation and resistance.

Placemaking Earth

Improving the quality of places can support greater resilience and climate change mitigation and adaptation on a global scale.

Fred Kent and Kathy Madden, key figures in the placemaking movement, advocate the following measures to help solve the impending ‘global catastrophe’: 1) bringing back the public square; 2) restoring local markets as the centres of neighbourhoods; 3) turning streets into places; 4) making architecture worth visiting; 5) develop new urban districts such as innovation districts; 6) regenerating/valuing waterfronts; 7) nurturing & extending museum.

PlacemakingX and Social Life Project are two initiatives part of the non-profit Placemaking Fund.  The Social Life Project functions as a placemaking repository led by Fred Kent and Kathy Madden. PlacemakingX is an international network of leaders that lead the way and/or discussion in shaping ‘better’ places. 

Stay put for Placemake Earth, an international placemaking challenge, part of Earth Week 2020. It will run between 18-27 April 2020. 

Placemaking in North America (and beyond)

It would be presumptuous to claim that placemaking began in the US. Leading placemakers such as Chuck Wolfe repeatedly draw inspiration from the ‘Old World’. See for example this post about different ways of seeing a place (inspired by old towns in France), and this book review of Why Old Places Matter by Thompson M. Mayes.

In its praise of both old and new, placemaking seems to be thriving in North America, as evidenced here.

The Project for Public Spaces (PPS) is the one-stop portal for place-makers on the other side of the Atlantic. It was founded in 1975 and originates in the work of William (Holly) Whyte, author of the documentary and book Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. Check out their top 10 articles of 2019. The articles are full of resources, such this post about the new edition of Kathy Madden’s landmark book How to Turn a Place Around.

Curbed contributors Patrick Sisson and Alissa Walker also share 101 small ways you can improve your city. From planting a tree and documenting your street to fixing your local park, there is much more you can do than you probably thought you could.

If you are a Twitter aficionado, do regularly check the #placemaking hashtag. Follow particularly the influential work of practitioner, academic and Planetizen contributor Chuck Wolfe.

The Alliance Center provides numerous placemaking-related resources, including a resourceful blog. A Denver-based non-profit, they leverage an impact dashboard to measure the impact of local actions, alongside three main categories of services/activities: 1) Climate Democracy; 2) Living Lab (focused on energy efficiency); and 3) local action, business CSR programme Best for Colorado. 

Ecosistema urbano is a multi-lingual placemaking portal and design and placemaking company that is active in several countries. The content on the portal is mostly in Spanish and English. The company operates internationally in the US and Spain, and beyond.

Placemaking in Europe

Focusing on this side of the Atlantic, Placemaking Europe provides tools and resources for effectively ‘creating better cities together’. They issue an excellent monthly newsletter: view the February 2020 edition, and subscribe here.

Place au changemetn St Etienne

‘Place au Changement’, a placemaking community initiative led by collectif etc. in the city of St Etienne, France. The place-name pun in French equates to ‘Change Square’ or ‘Transformation Place’. Picture credit: collectif etc.

If William Whyte sounded familiar, then you will surely know Jan Gehl’s own brand of people-friendly planning and architecture, epitomised by his books Cities for people (2010) and Life Between Buildings (2011 [1971]). This work can also feed into progressive forms of placemaking. Gehl Architects do brand themselves under the mission banner of ‘making cities for people.’ 

In a similar vein as the PPS project and Gehl Architects, check out some of the progressive architectural and neighbourhood design by the Swedish firm White Arkitekter. They often adopt a people-friendly approach to their projects. For example, follow the projects that feature their social sustainability lead, Viktoria Walldin. Worth noting also is the C/O City non-profit partnership which focuses on urban ecosystems and nature-based solutions, and brings together city agencies, research institutes, and various construction and architecture firms. 

In the UK as elsewhere, ‘placemaking’ may have come down with a negative connotation. ‘Placemaking’ may translate as gentrification induced by urban regeneration. Regeneration in the UK unfolds in a context of a housing crisis exacerbated by a mediocre quality of new housing. For a coverage of regeneration-led placemaking experience and best practice, see the UK-based news portal Placemaking Resources.

Thankfully, also, non-profits such as London-based Social Life promote the state-of-the-art in placemaking, people-friendly planning, and affordable housing / urban regeneration. High-level academics such as Matthew Carmona at UCL also push for better places through better design. See particularly the Place Alliance movement that he is leading, and the related Place Value Wiki. Participatory planning consultancies such as Commonplace also support local councils in their creating more people- and environmentally friendly places, neighbourhoods and cities. 

PPS shares the following insight about placemaking projects in Bulgaria.

Beyond placemaking

Movements and trends that relate to placemaking include New Urbanism, tactical urbanism, urban acupuncture, guerrilla gardening, permaculture, participatory budgeting and similar approaches that aim reconcile people and their environment in one way or another. Social enterprises, too, can help maintain social and environmental links and thereby contribute to (re-)shape places. See for example this former post about social enterprises in France.

Share your insight about placemaking trends, networks and experts with: blog@aesop-youngacademics.net.

Posted in Beyond planning, Dissemination, outreach, communication, Ecology, Planning, city, and society, Resilience, Sustainability and resilience, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment