How Developing Countries Can Benefit From Placemaking

Place driven development can instill a sense of belonging, shared ownership and responsibility

Ira Sanyal
3 min readOct 3, 2016
6 people casually sitting inside large cement pipes stacked in two rows, and covered on one opening side with blue, green, red, yellow film — to let filtered coloured light pass
Guerilla Art by Urfun Lab Surat, 2011

When we hear the word placemaking, the first image we get is of someplace in Europe or America. It has been misconstrued by many in developing countries as mere beautification, a luxury that developing nations would be wasteful to spend on. But with more and more results across the globe affirming the fact that revitalizing public spaces is actually beneficial to the economically weaker communities, placemaking has a chance of being embraced wholeheartedly.

Urbanization in the third world has happened at a dangerously accelerated pace and continues as such, as a result of which, a lot of what should be carefully planned is overlooked. Cities have been built for young abled adults, while children, elderly people, disabled people and other minorities of lower economical and social status struggle to navigate safely through the highly motorized, recklessly sprouting built environment.

The rise of private enterprises owning public resources has displaced the socio-economically challenged, magnifying the social inequities further and caused massive rural exodus, leading to more unplanned sprawl. Among the many diminishing public resources, are public spaces. More importantly green public spaces: parks and gardens, the breathing zones of cities.

Initially designed for people to escape the reality of city life, parks served as more than just escapes. Relaxing, rewinding and engaging with each other in natural settings helped people foster a healthy and conscious relationship with the environment. Our immediate environment shapes us and that reflects in our behavioral dynamics, and this effect is significantly noticeable in children, whose mental and physical condition is strongly influenced by their relationship with their environment.

Children, who Roger Hart described in ‘Children’s Experience of Place’ as “our largest powerless minority,” never have their opinions about the places in their surroundings factored into any of the government proposals and policies which decide the way they live, will live and will grow up. The neoliberal development practice of putting economic priorities before social ones, that has been adopted by many developing countries has led to a huge disconnect between the communities and their respective governments. The disconnect has seeped into the communities as well. There is a fledgling sense of camaraderie and rising sense of alienation. The deepening divide can be directly linked to the increasing number of gated communities, which continue to be constructed while the people who cannot afford them face a severe lack of space, sunlight, amenities, safety and easy access to public facilities. It is a result of inconsiderately planned policies and spaces. Policies with lesser insights create spaces with lesser affordances, and when spaces have so little to offer, they cease to become places.

“Placemaking policies can empower communities in developing countries to come together and take small steps towards their own well being.”

Spaces that do not reflect all our identities, or rather restrict them, are restrictive to our individual and collective growth. When we design cities that provide restricted opportunities to the poor, restricted access to the aged and disabled, restricted visibility to non-normative identities and restrict children’s instinctive need to explore and play, we are restricting our citizens to live up to their full potential. And therefore restricting our cities from being great places. When we speak of development, we look towards developing in a sustainable way, so that the world we leave for our children is a better one than the one we live in. Which is why the drives to gentrify spaces, to prune natural landscapes to a certain clinical ‘urban’ aesthetic in the name of development, go against the very idea of sustainable development as they do not include all the stakeholders and their needs, priorities and aspirations.

Placemaking policies can empower communities in developing countries to come together and take small steps towards their own well being. When people see tangible outcomes of their ideas, they get more involved in protecting, developing and sharing those ideas. Place driven development which encourages people of all ages, classes, colors, castes, abilities and identities to engage, participate and (re)define their environment can help to not only restore the environment, but also instill a sense of belonging, shared ownership and responsibility, which is necessary to move ahead together.