First life, then spaces, then buildings – the other way around never works.Jan Gehl, Professor of Urban Design at the School of Architecture in Denmark
Placemaking is a multi-faceted, people-centered approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. For the most recent instalment of urbanXchange, dpai’s quarterly panel discussion series tackling issues concerning Hamilton and the city’s urban fabric, we looked at the role of public art for placemaking in a civic context.
“First off, we need to define public art,” said panelist and dpai architect Petra Matar. “Whatever the answer is, its role is to express who we are as a society and who we aspire to be.”
After graduating from architecture school in Dubai, Petra relocated to Hamilton because she saw the city’s potential.
“Hamilton is a real city. People are invested in where they live here,” she said.
Panelist Robert Zeidler, managing partner of the Dabbert Group and owner of the Cotton Factory, a multi-use, commercial and artist studio in Hamilton, also sees opportunity in this city, believing the economic downtown following the decline of the city’s steel industry in the 1980s has made many opportunities possible.
“Without the downturn, buildings like mine [the Cotton Factory] wouldn’t exist. So much of downtown Hamilton wouldn’t exist,” said Rob. “We are in a lucky spot. We have an opportunity to ask what kind of city we want to live in.”
When it comes to placemaking, Rob says it takes more than just beautifying a place with a mural or sculpture: “It’s about using art as a driver for innovation and community building and development.”
For panelist Lennox Toppin, the purpose of public art is to provoke.
“I want a big reaction – I want it to open a discussion,” said Lennox, Board Director with the Hamilton Arts Council, which works to strengthen the role of the arts and culture in the City of Hamilton by making the arts accessible and relevant.
“We start every initiative [with the city of Hamilton] with a focus group asking the community what is important to them. You can’t make place without the social stuff, or without the history.”
The history of our city includes Indigenous art, which panelist and Indigenous Fashion Designer, Angela DeMontigny, said the city is heavily lacking.
“Indigenous art has a story. It reminds us where we came from,” she said. “We could use a lot more visibility in the city.”
urbanXchange offers opportunities for audience participation, this time hearing from Mary Lou Tanner, Deputy City Manager at the City of Burlington, who said we all need to do better when it comes to public art and placemaking.
“If we are not paying artists for their work or investing in our cities, we are not building the connectivity that takes us from being good to being great,” she said. “There is a long history of cities disinvesting in their cores. Artists push us to think better, do better and be better.”
urbanXchange is moderated by Laura Babcock, a nationally established communications professional and community expert and hosted by dpai principal & CEO David Premi. Portions of the urbanXchange series are available for viewing on The O Show on Cable 14 and live-streamed on dpai’s Facebook page.