As I get deeper into World Building I have been looking for tools and ideas that can help me. In this post I want to explore Place Making; the study of how to turn physical built spaces into living communities.
There is no guarantee that a set of homes, shops or industrial units will become an active vibrant place worth living in or working in or visiting. In the 1960’s Jane Jacobs wrote a book called The Death and Life of Great American Cities in which she argued that without involving the people who lived there it was not possible to make places work.
Her ideas are still highly relevant today as can be seen in 11 principles articulated by Project for Public Spaces, a Place Making group in Chicago. Let’s look at how each can help us with World Building.
- The community is the expert
PPS says: People who use a public space regularly provide the most valuable perspective and insights into how the area functions. They also can help identify issues that are important to consider in improving the space. Uncovering and incorporating their ideas and talents is essential to creating a successful and vital community place.
We build worlds in order to tell stories, make ourself resilient for the future and (if we are businesses) to engage people in what we do. This first principle makes it clear that we need to deeply understand our audiences, their motivations and their needs.
2. You are creating a place, not a design.
PPS says: Design is an important component of creating a place, but not the only factor. Providing access and creating active uses, economic opportunities, and programming are often more important than design.
Our world needs to be accessible, findable and approachable as well as beautifully designed. It needs a clear role for the audience and the characters who inhabit it. For example if you are developing a game world you need to create experiences for your players that are varied, exciting, creative and challenging.
3. You can’t do it alone.
PPS says: A good public space requires partners who contribute innovative ideas, financial or political support, and help plan activities. Partners also can also broaden the impact of a civic space by coordinating schedules for programming and improvement projects.
Think about your world not as a place in your head but as a living setting waiting to invite others in and allow them to contribute to how the world evolves. Teams often create better worlds than individuals and harnessing the power of a team within your organisation will help you imagine and prepare for the future better than doing its yourself alone.
4. They’ll always say, “It can’t be done.”
PPS says: Every community has naysayers. When an idea stretches beyond the reach of an organization or its jurisdiction and an official says, “It can’t be done,” it usually means: “We’ve never done things that way before.” Keep pushing. Identify leaders in the community who share your vision and build support. Talk to your alderman and get him or her engaged.
Whether you are scenario planning, designing a table top fantasy role play game or designing your home on the Metaverse, you will get push back from others. Collaborative world building is a new way of thinking requiring creative skills and behaviours that are often unfamiliar and a bit frightening for the team. You will need to build support and input from a wide range of people to make this work.
5. You can see a lot just by observing.
PPS says: People will often go to extraordinary lengths to adapt a place to suit their needs. A raised curb can be used as a place to sit, sort mail, and even—believe it or not—cook clams. Observing a space allows you to learn how the space is used.
I love this one and it pushes us to experiment, to give change time and most of all to watch what people do and adapt to their initiatives.
6. Develop a vision.
PPS says: A vision for a public space addresses its character, activities, uses, and meaning in the community. This vision should be defined by the people who live or work in or near the space.
We build worlds with a focus and that provides the setting that will support exploration and storytelling. We invite characters and audiences into our setting to get feedback and we then add richness to engage and test out ideas. Defining that focus is key,
7. Form supports function.
PPS says: Too often, people think about how they will use a space only after it is built. Keeping in mind active uses when designing or rehabilitating a space can lower costs by discouraging unnecessary and expensive landscaping and monuments, as well as potentially eliminating the need to retrofit a poorly used public space.
Don’t over plan without testing and prototyping. Testing can take many forms from visualisation and modelling to sharing early stories and inviting comments and feedback. Working to develop your world as a team will prevent some over attachment to “monument thinking” but so will stress testing a few ideas with users, readers, players or colleagues.
PPS says: The concept of triangulation relates to locating elements next to each other in a way that fosters activity. For example, a bench, trash receptacle, and coffee kiosk placed near a bus stop create synergy because they are more convenient for waiting bus passengers and pedestrians than if they were isolated from each other.
This feels like the heart of world building; the juxtaposition of a group of ideas and the idea of movement around the world. Don’t assume that your visitors or players will take a linear route but give them reasons to explore, stay varying lengths of time and feel welcome to come back.
9. Start with the petunias.
PPS says: Simple, short-term actions such as planting flowers can be a way of testing ideas and encouraging people their ideas matter. These actions provide flexibility to expand the space by experimenting, evaluating and incorporating results into the next steps and long range planning.
Start simple and start with beautiful. Consider the values in your world and what matters. Grow those areas first and then extend in response to feedback. Don’t spread your efforts too thinly.
10. Money is not the issue.
PPS says: A lack of money is often used as an excuse for doing nothing. Funds for pure public space improvements often are scarce, so it is important to remember the value of the public space itself to potential partners and search for creative solutions. The location, level of activity, and visibility of public spaces—combined with a willingness to work closely with local partners—can elicit resources from those involved to activate and enhance these spaces.
Start small and scale as you become more confident. Find partnerships and experiment. Building a complex game, the whole world for a brand experience or the 3D models for a complete city is a big undertaking but the excitement of building worlds is that you can start small with low cost tools and bring your audiences in and get them to help.
11. You are never finished.
PPS says:: About 80 percent of the success of any public space can be attributed to its management. This is because the use of good places changes daily, weekly and seasonally, which makes management critical. Given the certainty of change and fluid nature of the use of a place at different times, the challenge is to develop the ability to respond effectively. A good management structure will provide that flexibility.
Management here refers to constantly managing the spaces you create rather than The Management and the same will be true for any world you create. Adding new characters, running events, telling new stories and exploring new technologies or challenges are all dynamic and need nurturing continuously.
These 11 ideas seem so timely and so relevant to building powerful worlds for the future. What do you think? What other insights can we borrow from other industries or ways of thinking?