From Placemaking to Sustainability Citizenship

PlacemakingBy Beau Beza and Jaime Hernández-Garcia

Placemaking is an established practice and research field. Sustainability Citizenship is an emerging concept that tries to understand the different socio-cultural dimensions used in the creation of places, but with a particular focus on: sustainability, social, environmental and/or economic means in the realisation of space(s), created from the bottom up. In our contribution for the special issue of the Journal of Place Management and Development on participatory placemaking,  with the title“From placemaking to sustainability citizenship: An evolution in the understanding of community realised public spaces in Bogotá’s informal settlements” (, we discuss “sustainability citizenship” and how it may be a more appropriate concept to understand how urban space is created and transform in informal settlements in Latin America, taking as a example, barrios of Bogotá.

Sustainability citizenship and placemaking are linked through their “process-driven” approach to realising places and use of the citizenry to enact change. In Informal settlements, public spaces are created outside formal planning processes through alternative path dependencies and the resourcefulness of its citizens. Sustainability citizenship, rather than placemaking, can work outside formal planning systems and manoeuvre around established path dependencies, which offers an evolutionary step in the creation and understanding of community realised places in the global south.

Placemaking is an approach that can be used in reference to the community’s development and use of a process in the built/social realisation of informal settlements in Bogotá and in the past has been used by authors (e.g. Beza and Hernández-Garcia 2014, 2015) to describe the development of urban space in these settings. However, placemaking has flourished in organised and established settings, which rely on formal planning structures to support the concept’s use. Hence, placemaking, in these settings, also normally revolve around a specific existing group of people (e.g. a community) tied to or that already have established links to a specific location. In this “traditional” placemaking illustration, value and meaning of the urban environment are created through a socio-political project engagement process where social actors are assumed to each have equal standing and/or say in regards to decision-making. During and, importantly, at the end of the placemaking process “by-in” or positive leaning acceptance of a desired outcome, regarding the site, is aspired to.

Yet, sustainability citizenship may be used to better explain the realisation process in barrios, as it works from a different set of assumptions contrary to that of placemaking. For example, the creation of informal urban areas in, for example, Bogotá, Colombia were first achieved by a group of individuals that self-organised and engaged in a dialogue with one another (and a pirate developer) about the site. This dialogue then led to the creation of an urban vision, which was achieved outside of formal municipal planning. Following the visioning, individual initiative(s) slowly gave way to collective action(s) that physically and socially transformed the urban environment.

However, the argument here in terms of using the sustainability citizenship concept to better explain the production of space in barrios, should not be viewed in terms of a way to release or relieve governments from their responsibility of contributing to a community’s continuing development. Hence, citizen action “within place-based communities” can be used to hold governments accountable and compel them to act; and in this regard, they then follow the citizenry’s lead. The salient argument embedded within sustainability citizenship is how social actors may best affect the city to be sustainable.

Placemaking Sustainability citizenship

The contribution of this paper is to identify that placemaking has an extremely important role to play when explaining place-based public/social outcomes in formal regulated planning settings. However, because placemaking’s conceptual and theoretical roots stem from Anglo-western concepts of urban (re)development it may not be an appropriate instrument to help explain the realisation process of social/public spaces other than those found in the formal regulated planning settings of the west. Rather, sustainability citizenship as an emerging and complementary concept to that of placemaking, may better serve attempts to understand and elaborate on urban realisation in a city’s informal areas, where formal regulatory planning process are not always in place and/or the people´s participation in the creation/transformation of spaces does not necessarily follows a formal and established path. The sustainability citizenship concept also may provide a potential conceptual bridge that may be used to link together participation and citizenship arguments in Latin American contexts. Also the concept of sustainability citizenship, when used as a platform to explain the realisation of urban spaces can be used as a mechanism to elaborate on the establishment and maintenance of urban governance regimes in places, for example, such as Bogotá’s informal settlements.