Place, Nature, Public Realm

Placemaking: a guide for BTR development

How placemaking best practices create differentiation and validate investment decisions

Softer outcomes ultimately positively impact the bottom line

Truly successful places are measured in more than just financial metrics; they are interconnected systems of people and spaces, buzzing with activity, purpose and joy. They nurture community and belonging. They have a sense of ‘place’. They are, essentially, an ecosystem.  

So it follows that the aspiration, and legacy, for developers and landowners should be to orchestrate a community that acts as a perpetuating and self-evolving ecosystem. 

Why? Because long-term, soft outcomes such as these positively impact those harder financial metrics. 

Evidence from the Centre for Conscious Design shows that residents who are healthier, happier and more satisfied are more likely to take good care of their community. 

Other studies, including one from the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) hint that they’re also more likely to buy or stay longer, and more likely to pay a premium.  

But outcomes like these don’t have to be left to chance – they can be designed in from the outset.  

Placemaking is a foundational process that unites every stakeholder under a defining, transformative vision

How do we create a ‘sense of place’?       

‘Sense of place’ is probably the most often-used term to sketch a development aspiration for the built environment. And yet, definitions of precisely what ‘placemaking’ means are as diverse and approximate as the number of people discussing it. 

Far from simply activating or ‘branding’ a new place or space, MindFolio see placemaking as a foundational process that unites every stakeholder under a defining, transformative vision – from which a customised ecosystem and masterplan should naturally emerge.  

Placemaking is a complex process, which starts with immersion into the place itself. 

Placemakers must dig deep to uncover the history, culture, peoples, traditions, and ambitions of a place. They must also engage with key stakeholders – landowners, developers, residents and local authorities – to gain a comprehensive understanding of all their aspirations, challenges and priorities.   

Billund: Placemakers must dig deep to uncover the history, culture, peoples, traditions, and ambitions of a place

The output of this early immersion constructs a clear picture of the genius loci, identifying the needs of participants, be they workers, residents or visitors. 

It’s a rich resource of information and understanding that provides a contextual springboard for the clever ideation that follows.  

Placemaking needs a powerful, guiding Vision Ecosystem 

Once you start to understand the ins and outs of a place and its people, it’s necessary to look beyond development ‘red lines’ to gain inspiration.

The ultimate goal of Visioning – a thoughtful and creative workstream – is to curate a strategic and imaginative ecosystem. 

This Vision Ecosystem should recognise that every design, component and feature must add value not only to itself, but also to the common worth, both now and in the future. 

Visioning is more systematic than it sounds.

It’s a 360-degree development process, which concerns just about every aspect of the development cycle and can involve conceptual masterplans, differentiation strategies, brand propositions, or asset betterments. 

Although every project is subject to different dynamics and needs, taking this approach goes a long way to avoiding missed opportunities and imperceptible mind-set traps.   

A great example of vision-led transformation is the small town of Billund in Denmark, home of the LEGO brand.  

Centrally located in quiet rural Jutland, stakeholders, including LEGO, described a ‘decaying town centre’ and the damaging effects of ‘chasing tourism at any price’, as significant issues in creating quality employment for residents, capturing retail footfall and attracting new talent to the borough. 

In response to these difficulties, we drew on the town’s unique heritage as the home of the LEGO brand, but sought to discover more meaningful and inclusive territory for the wider community. Billund had to be more than a ‘toy manufacturing town’.  

Using a proprietary process we call ‘systematic creativity’, we tapped extensive intelligence resources, pulling in world-leading inspiration, challenging mindsets, thinking, testing and exploring ideas and scenarios before rethinking once again. 

The joined-up dots overwhelmingly led the team to embrace and expand the ‘world about, for and with children’ as the overarching purpose and ambition for the town’s future and well-being. 

The final ecosystem of strategy, place and content innovations envisioned Billund as the global ‘Capital of Children’ which proved to be the breakthrough catalyst for successfully engaging developers and investors.  

From creating Billund’s International School (expanded three times since 2013), hosting the government’s Council for Children, developing the international attraction of the LEGO House designed by BIG architects and winning the Danish Design Prize, the execution of this vision has led to Billund’s successful transformation into an expanding, thriving urban destination capable of attracting residents and employees from around the globe and an ever growing stream of visitors of all ages. 

The use of creative visioning produces more insightful research  

This is the point at which many creative agencies might deliver their work and step back. 

Visioning and research are separate but best practice is to bring the two things together and allow them to feed each other.  

The power of combining the two disciplines adds depth and value to the insights that emerge. Rather than posing simplistic ‘liking’ questions without context, for example, ‘would you like a playground’ or ‘would you like a balcony’, visioning seeds the research piece with the far-reaching, differentiated and brand-centric propositions. 

Consumer participants are presented with realistic trade-off scenarios, allowing stakeholders to gain deep consumer insights around willingness to pay, barriers to purchase, and the ideal combination of amenities for target customer groups. 

Crucially, this method is able to access deeper, non-conscious drivers of loyalty, place attachment and brand affinity.  

In short, while any development project can follow current design trends, or poll customers on the amenities they desire, the most successful developments combine visioning with analytical insights to provide the evidence that matters to financial stakeholders – before a final vision is committed to a masterplan.  

Impact on customer experience: Demonstrable connection between placemaking and customer satisfaction, tenure, and willingness to pay a premium. 

Impact on investment risk: Demonstrable connection between placemaking and customer satisfaction, tenure, asset stewardship and willingness to pay a premium. Reduced churn, local authority approvals, good PR.  

Combining visioning with insights and analytics makes for powerful placemaking 

Placemaking should join the strategic dots between creative ideas and consumer-facing economics.  

It’s an enormous body of work, but armed with its outputs, stakeholders can deploy evidence-based pricing and trade-off strategies to maximise their returns. 

For the user, placemaking creates value in the form of community, belonging and improved health and happiness.

These softer outcomes ultimately impact the bottom line in the form of customer satisfaction, full occupancy, increased tenure and asset stewardship.  

Why would you leave that to chance? 

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