Chapter 12 Improving the Impact of Placemaking Practices: An Engaged Scholarship Approach

In: Placemaking in Practice Volume 1
Bahanur Nasya Placemaking Europe Leader, Eutropian GmbH Vienna Austria

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Conor Horan Technological University Dublin Dublin Ireland

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Anna Louise Bradley STIPO Amsterdam Netherlands

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Laura Martinez-Izquierdo Nabolagshager AS Oslo Norway

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Among placemaking practitioners and scholars, the question of how we improve engagement in placemaking practices is the subject of much debate. We look at different placemaking cases in order to understand how the early inclusion of multiple stakeholder groups in the process of placemaking design and planning can improve citizen engagement and impact. In so doing we present a process-based “tool” to improve participatory engagement across multiple contexts. The early inclusion of multiple stakeholders is important as it can yield deeper insights into the needs of a community. In turn, this can help ensure the outcomes of placemaking projects are more impactful which can lead to more sustainable outcomes for local communities. To contribute to this, we look at different placemaking cases to understand how the inclusion of multiple stakeholders leads to sustainable outcomes. We compare stakeholder engagement across four placemaking initiatives. In the examples of PlaceCity in Oslo and Vienna, placemaking tools were utilized for urban regeneration or improvement. The case of Stará tržnica (Old Market Hall) in Bratislava was a renovation and revitalization of a vacant heritage market. The example of Club Rhijnhuizen in the Netherlands showed how placemaking was used in a strategic way to revitalize a vacant neighbourhood. By comparing and contrasting these cases, we illustrate how an engaged scholarship approach can improve common participatory placemaking practices. An engaged scholarship approach focuses on early inclusion of multiple stakeholders as partners (Van de Ven, 2007). Engaged scholarship accepts that conflict is inherent in the process and should be embraced and managed rather than “solved”. We highlight the implications of this for the design and project management of placemaking initiatives. We conclude this chapter by showing how a process-based view of placemaking practices contributes to sustainable outcomes for city councils, placemaking organizations and local communities.

1 Introduction

Many placemaking initiatives claim to include and reflect a participatory practice during the design, implementation and installation stages. Where such consultations occur, “completed” visions for urban renewal, architectural and interior designs are often presented to local communities who are then asked to respond. Such meetings are conducted, as participatory consultations to disseminate proposals, in the hope, arguably, of meeting short-term project management goals within tight budgetary constraints.

If this description of placemaking processes is accurate, it may well fall short of their potential to be a truly engaged process. If participatory consultations quickly aim to gain approval in the hope of meeting short-term project management goals at the expense of long-term impact and sustainability for local communities, the practice of placemaking might well benefit from more theorizing around the nature of engagement. To address this point, we draw upon the ideas presented in the engaged scholarship literature (Boyer, 1996; Van de Ven & Johnson, 2006; Van de Ven, 2007) to show how such participatory practices as engagement can lead to more impactful and sustainable outcomes. We focus on two aspects of engaged scholarship: first, the early inclusion of multiple stakeholders as partners in the process and, second, the acceptance of conflict as an inherent part of the process to be managed rather than “solved”. By implementing these two elements we argue that local communities can gain ownership over the implementation and take responsibility for the sustainable impact of a project after its completion.

This chapter compares and contrasts different case histories of placemaking practices from Oslo, Norway, Vienna in Austria, Rhijnhuizen in the Netherlands and Bratislava in Slovakia. Using these case histories, we aim to show, by using engaged scholarship as a theoretical lens, how placemaking can effectively include and empower local actors. Through their early inclusion we argue that outcomes are improved. Given the variety of the participatory practices discussed, we contribute to the debate on how best to harness civic engagement to improve long-term impact and sustainability.

2 Two Contrasting Approaches to Placemaking Practices

Common participatory practices (CPP) within placemaking projects focus on treating stakeholders as users of urban regeneration solutions. Such practices often treat stakeholders as consumers of completed designs. Here short-term project management goals as milestones overshadow the potential long-term contribution of stakeholders. Such participatory events often form one-way lines of communication in a stimulus-response form of interaction. To address the potential of these shortcomings, we consider the notion of engaged scholarship to supplement CPP for improved participation in urban planning processes (Table 12.1). The notion of engaged scholarship emerged as a means to address how knowledge comes into being across the theory-practice divide (Boyer, 1996; Van de Ven, 2007). While scholarly knowledge arrived at in a rigorous way is valuable, practical knowledge, such as that held by local communities and stakeholders, brings relevance into process. By including these two aspects (Van de Ven & Johnson, 2006; Pettigrew 1997), it is argued that decision-making is improved and that the outcome of a placemaking initiative becomes more impactful and sustainable. We focus on two aspects from the engaged scholarship literature.

2.1 The Early Inclusion of Stakeholders as Long-term Partners

To avoid the need to literally translate placemaking designs into something accessible for a consuming audience, local stakeholders need to be treated as partners in the creation process rather than as an audience receiving “completed” placemaking designs for review. Van de Ven and Johnson (2006) describe how this knowledge transfer view of project management is problematic. They claim that “exhortations for academics to put their theories into practice and for managers to put their practices into theory may be misdirected because they assume that the relationship between knowledge of theory and knowledge of practice entails a literal transfer or translation of one into the other” (Van de Ven & Johnson, 2006, p. 808).

The implication of this for placemaking is that the treatment of local stakeholders as consumers of placemaking designs, rather than as partners in their creation, can result in the relationship being characterized as a transactive communicative relationship focused on a hands-off approach to dissemination. Such a view overlooks the value of using local practical knowledge within and throughout the placemaking design process. In the urban context where stakeholders can be very diverse, having different cultures, capacities and sometimes even language can be an advantage. Having such a variety of interests, perspectives, objectives and goals around what placemaking practices should yield becomes valuable. Incorporating local practical knowledge from the beginning can engender a sense of ownership and improve the impact and sustainably of placemaking outcomes. The treatment of stakeholders as partners allows firms to acknowledge and address the big questions that are grounded in lived realities of the local community. Where conflicts exist, they can be addressed so as to winnow down different opinions, perspectives and goals (Van de Ven & Johnson, 2006, pp. 810–811) and arrive at a more impactful or indeed more sustainable outcome.

2.2 Dialectically Managing Conflict and Tension: A Strategy of Arbitrage

Within an engaged scholarship approach the emphasis is placed on accepting and working with tension and conflict between different stakeholder perspectives rather than on “solving” that tension and conflict. To address this, Ven de Ven suggests a strategy of arbitrage designed to manage inevitable conflict (Van de Ven, 2007; Van de Ven & Johnson, 2006). A strategy of arbitrage allows project managers to exploit the differences in the knowledge of practitioners and the knowledge possessed by local stakeholders (Van de Ven & Johnson, 2006, p. 803). They state that

because arbitrage is a dialectical form of inquiry, participants often experience conflict and interpersonal tensions that are associated with juxtaposing people with different views and approaches. We argue that managing conflict constructively is not only important but lies at the heart of engaged scholarship. Focusing, as we have in the past, on tensions between scholars and practitioners is a mistake, for it blinds us to the very real opportunities that are possible from exploiting the differences underlying these tensions in the knowledge production process. (Van de Ven & Johnson, 2006, p. 803)

By using this arbitrage strategy, the authors argue that the dual hurdles of rigour and relevance are addressed (Pettigrew, 1997) and that the theory-practice divide is narrowed not by knowledge transfer alone but by meaningful engagement. They add that an arbitrage strategy is essentially a pluralistic methodology and what has previously been seen as a problematic interpersonal aspect of arbitrage with the presence of tension and conflict can instead be seen as representing something generative if managed within an accepted “dialectical process of inquiry” (Van de Ven, 2007, p. 809). Taking these two issues as a starting point we extrapolate their wider implications for the management of placemaking projects (see Table 12.1). We illustrate these aspects across the following case histories.

Table 12.1
Table 12.1
Table 12.1

Common participatory practices versus engaged scholarship practices

3 The Grønland Neighbourhood and Hersleb High School, Oslo

Grønland, a neighbourhood in central Oslo, has specific and lingering socioeconomic challenges, including high child poverty, high secondary school dropout rates, overcrowded apartments, unemployment and discrimination of minority youth (Brattbakk et al., 2017; Tolstad et al., 2017). As part of the PlaceCity project, the social enterprise Nabolagshager decided to cooperate with an inner-city high school in Grønland with one of the highest dropout and unemployment rates in Oslo. Despite this, the school runs an award-winning entrepreneurship programme. Many students have expressed a strong desire to “show the world” that they have great ambitions, clear prospects and strong desires to contribute to their community. Furthermore, Grønland offered too few public spaces (mainly due to large families living in small apartments), the quality of the public spaces that existed was poor and the options for youths in particular were insufficient (e.g. a lack of an after school gathering place). There was also a lack of after school activities for youth in this area.

The high school’s 6,000 m2 schoolyard represented an important asset for the neighbourhood but it was underutilized. It had the potential to contribute to the living environment of Grønland while potentially offering the community a safe place. The schoolyard was not user friendly. More could be made of this space to meet local community needs. Nabolagshager, the firm involved, decided to make better use of this dormant resource. To do so this would require the involvement of the school, its administration as well as its students. As a consequence, any potential solutions would require an understanding of their opinions, wishes and desires so that any solution would have a material impact on the live experience of the local community (Nasya et al., 2021b).

Table 12.2
Table 12.2
Table 12.2

Engaging multiple stakeholder groups

Rather than using a top-down-driven approach the aim of the project became one of engaging in a community-focused approach to transform and create a public place that young people and the neighbourhood could thrive in. To ensure this, Nabolagshager assumed the role of facilitating and inspiring, while letting the students and local community make decisions themselves about how to develop the space. They felt that to transform the schoolyard it would need to be made into an inclusive and welcoming place, not just for students, but as a public resource that the local community could use after school hours and during the weekends.

This continuous co-creative collaborative process allowed typical project management tasks to be completed in a different way with the involvement of students and their families. First, data was collected by youth researchers (students from the high school) on such topics as behavioural mapping, car observation, the mapping of local organizations and businesses, as well as interviews and conversations with teachers and neighbours. Second, through co-creative workshops which involved games and other mapping activities, different scenarios for the area’s development could be explored. Third, through the use of several pop-up events a wider network of contacts was established. Finally, formal interviewing of participants was conducted. Not only was this a useful learning experience for the students from the Hersleb high school, these steps were also invaluable to ensure that the local community had ownership over the process and that any solution would be impactful and sustainable. The knowledge obtained through this process would improve the design planning and implementation of the project. Table 12.2 highlights the co-creating activities relied on throughout the project to identify and include multiple stakeholder groups as partners within the process.

Even though the project’s general objective was creating a liveable public space in the high school courtyard and the adjacent street, a specific objective for the project emerged in a bottom-up manner from the exploratory research. The research findings showed that people, especially students, wished for more social events, a greener and more colourful schoolyard, activities after school hours and at weekends, as well as more light during the dark season. To address this, pop-up furniture and a schoolyard bench was decided on. The students got to choose the colours, learned how to design and install the planters, berry bushes and flowers, for which they took the responsibility for maintenance. Students, including local skaters, started using the pop-up furniture immediately. The project was used as a location for a photo shoot, which honoured the creators and filled the students with pride. In collaboration with the artist, Goro Tronsmo and the actor Paal Herman Ims, the students created the light installation “The Life to Come”. A couple of days after the artwork started lighting up a dark corner of the schoolyard in the grey, Norwegian January weather a new Covid lockdown came into effect. The locals felt that the light and colourful furniture pieces brought hope. Students commented on the double meaning of the “life to come” after graduation as well as the “life to come” after the pandemic (Nasya et al., 2021a). Even though the wider project was initiated by Nabolagshager, a local social enterprise, with the expressed goal of activating the local community, the specific installations came from the students, their teachers, families and local residents, supported by curated local artists in its implementation. This bottom-up approach arguably resulted in more impactful solutions compared to a traditional top-down-driven approach to project management.

4 Floridsdorf: Regenerating a Peripheral District of Vienna

Floridsdorf, a peripheral district of Vienna, lost its “centre feeling”. As a matter of fact, it should have become a capital city in the state of Lower Austria beyond the Danube River. But today’s Floridsdorf is very well connected to the rest of the city as a district, and for many commuters it is also the starting point for visiting Vienna. The city of Vienna is aware of the peripheric problems of the outer districts and created a citywide strategy to address this. Floridsdorf was chosen for a pilot test to activate the local community. For this kind of urban regeneration in urban planning, the term “bottom linked” was used to describe an approach which is neither top down nor bottom up. The top-down vision was to develop Floridsdorf as an “active” and “central” district by engaging with local stakeholders and empower them in their roles as citizens to contribute ideas for the area’s regeneration. The team at urban design studio Superwien Urbanism met with local stakeholders, including shop owners, traders and social service providers. A team from Social Design at the University of Applied Arts Vienna interviewed residents in the area. The challenge here was to get the local residents to support the large-scale goal of creating a lively centre. Most of the interviewees did not feel much affinity with the district centre due to its peripheral nature. Many rarely meet friends and family here. Local residents and visitors from other districts preferred the green spaces and waterfronts around Alte and Neue Donau, which were in walking distance of the district centre but design-wise not connected with each other. Connecting the two areas became a pillar for the regeneration of Floridsdorf. The question was how to make the centre of Floridsdorf important for the residents? The challenge was to convince people that their single acts can have an impact on the social life of the district (Nasya et al., 2021b).

The centrality of Floridsdorf is a creative vision, but a top-down decision. The challenge here is to get a bottom-up owned approach, while finding a process to engage the local actors. The project managers found it difficult to get residents to engage. Interviews confirmed a perceived lack of interest and involvement from the residents. Many were initially suspicious of the special interests involved. Time was needed to build trust and convince locals that small actions are possible and would make a difference, that they had a sense of ownership, as well as an important role to play in shaping the social life of their district from the bottom up.

The team concluded that most of the interviewees had unrealistic ideals of what Floridsdorf is or should be. Three main visions crystallized; an idealized Floridsdorf of the past which partners named Village (Dorf), a Floridsdorf projected to evolve to become a megacity not unlike New York which partners named Metropolis (Metropole), and a liminal space which people could not relate to and live in because of external circumstances. The project management team named it On the Way (Unterwegs). They hypothesized that the lack of involvement in user-generated urbanism from the general public was based in the understanding of a vision for the “possible futures” for the area and that this uncertainty made it difficult for them to be empowered enough to engage fully in the process. Activities were organized to address these challenges. “Placemaking Pils” and “Placemaking Laboratories” brought locals together with placemakers, administrative departments, representatives, civil society members and the private sector. Using presentations, film screenings and moderated workshops opportunities were created to collaborate on a vision for the central area of the district. Topics such as liveability, climate change actions on the ground, bureaucratic hurdles and the non-participation of other actors such as land or building owners were discussed. Most importantly, further efforts were made to encourage residents to engage with the future possibilities for their district. The Social Design team, including students from the university, created an “urban lab” in a strategically located shopping unit in the defined central area, so as to have a local presence (“Real Labor”). Here they planned local activities to build interest in the project with passers-by. This became an information point for locals.

An “Urbanize!” festival featuring over 20 events, including walks, concerts, workshops, exhibition and games, was organized in October 2020 around Schlingermarkt, one of the focal points of the centre. Hundreds of guests from Floridsdorf and elsewhere participated. The opening of “Real Labor” in Schleifgasse 11, a space in which students and PlaceCity collaborators worked on ongoing modus, and also during Covid lockdowns, to engage with the residents who seemed excited and amused by this new window front in Floridsdorf. During an open market festival where residents were allowed to sell products for a small fee, vendors sold Georgian and Palestinian as well as preserved foods, completely selling out in just a few hours. This helped residents visualize the possibility of a viable market in the area. Other activities to encourage residents to visualize potentialities for the centre of Floridsdorf included a pop-up choir. The Construction Choir Collective, which rehearsed and performed in the centre, also aimed to encourage residents to see their district in a new light. Similar activities were organized for the children in the district, including walking tours. Over 60 visitors participated and listened to the walking tours. The aim here was to change people’s perceptions of their surroundings, to give them agency over their district and to get them to reimagine for themselves how they might redefine local spaces. By changing the narrative from “everything was better before” towards a narrative about the future, residents were given the tools to envisage future possibilities of what might come (Nasya et al., 2021a, 2021b)

5 Activating Rhijnhuizen in the Nieuwegein Municipality of Utrecht

In 2014, following the recession, Rhijnhuizen, an underused, fragmented business park covering 80 hectares lay idle. With a 40% vacancy rate, a lack of mixed-use functions and an abundance of empty parking lots and glass façade architecture, many renters were hesitant to rent or use these spaces. Many of the buildings were owned by prior businesses or local families and served as investment pensions for the future. Owners were left with a difficult challenge to figure out what to do with their empty properties. In response to the area’s situation, the city of Nieuwegein, together with a real estate developer, opened a call for a new area management plan, specifically requesting long-term solutions and mixed-use development in exchange for six months of funding, after which time the area management operation should be self-sustaining. In response to the call, members of Stipo, a multi-disciplinary consultancy team for urban strategy and city development, in collaboration with Stadkwadraat, a group that provides financial/economic advice and management relating to area development, rose to the challenge of turning the site into a lively and liveable neighbourhood. As the ownership of the business park included up to a hundred owners, it was vital to capture and bring all the varying interests together. To achieve this, Club Rhijnhuizen was created with the explicit task of closely working with and building the trust of the local stakeholders. The organization worked on funding models and an area management plan to ensure that all these interests were brought forward in a democratic manner. The first step was to stimulate public use by opening up the ground floor spaces. By enabling a diverse set of activities and the daily use of the units it was hoped that it would engage the local community and improve their social life.

To ensure success and facilitate a development process within the community, a clear and equitable governance structure was needed in the form of a public-private partnership. Participatory input from the owners, renters and users of the spaces and real estate developers was needed. The leaders of the Stipo team, Hans and Emelie, invested their time and energy to get to know the community from the onset through walk-along chats, exploring the area, and simply talking with locals. Collaborative horizontal meetings with stakeholders were hosted to build a network, align stakeholder interests and build social capital with interested parties. These meetings were scaled up into more formal placemaking meetings. An equitable funding model was created where developers paid a one-time monetary contribution, while building owners and residents were exempt. They would bring value to the project in a different way – by offering their different perspectives on what was needed. At the same time, a nearby park, Park Rhijnhuizen, underwent a handful of placemaking projects to improve the users’ daily lived experiences and, importantly, bolster their sense of trust in the project’s plans for area renewal.

To ensure democratic engagement, Club Rhinjhuizen members served on the board of the public-private partnership for one year. Based on the outcomes of annual meetings, the action plan for that year was put into place. The long-term nature of this project provided stability and deepened the members’ involvement in and the ongoing communication about new developments. Since the organizational structure, and ergo the governance as well, of Club Rhijnhuizen is based on an equitable and innovative membership model – bringing together many stakeholders contributing different resources – the decisions are taken in a democratic and reflective manner. Every stakeholder group has equal footing for decision-making, under the agreement that all contribute some resource, whether this be financial (from developers and the municipality), time (community) or in-kind contributions (local businesses). When conflicts occurred, the board reflected on the best solution to ensure its long-term sustainability. This approach allowed Club Rhijnhuizen to work behind the scenes and gather a great deal of information about the needs of the membership network. For example, several local companies and organizations wishing to make their premises more environmentally friendly were reviewed by the Dutch national energy consultancy firm LBP|SIGHT. From the collective efforts of Club Rhijnhuizen, the Rijnhuizen area has become one of the national pilot projects for installing a district heating network. This might not have been achievable without the collective engagement of multiple stakeholders coming to work together.

6 Stará tržnica (Old Market Hall) in Bratislava, Slovakia

The Old Market Hall, a historic building in the centre of Bratislava, was closed down after years of unsuccessful attempts by the municipality to keep the market alive. The city tried to run it as a mono-functional market, but only six stalls remained inside as all others had closed in the dying market. Many tenants were making losses up to €30,000 a year. One reason for this was that the owners had a very narrow focus for the building, e.g. a market hall had to be a market hall even if there was little demand for it in Bratislava. At the same time the heritage-protected building required urgent reconstruction.

From the perspective of the municipality, the market building had cultural and social importance, but the city did not have the funds to operate the market itself. Ideally, the municipality wished to maintain the social value of the market by renovating it despite its unattractiveness as a shopping area. As a consequence, the municipality aimed to outsource the management of the building while also maintaining its social value. In an open competition, the municipality looked for interest groups to get involved. A civic non-profit association, Alianca Stará Tržnica, was chosen in 2013 (Patti & Polyák, 2017). The concept behind Stará tržnica was that prices would be lower due to its non-profit status. By charging lower rents businesses with social value would be able to participate.

Alianca Stará Tržnica brought multiple stakeholders together, including craftspeople, farmers and event organizers, to cater to a wider array of audiences. A multidisciplinary team of 11 experts were also included to address issues of heritage, renovation, building works and financial planning. The diversity of the team with real hands-on experience in different fields is the main success factor behind the project. This allowed them to rethink a mix of uses for the Old Market Hall. To its economic sustainability a “blend of functions” and “combined activities” would ensure that all activities would be subsidized and successful. The empty hall was reopened. A special programme for the Old Market Hall was created to accommodate different uses and attract wider audiences. Every Saturday a food market was run as a seven-days-a-week market was seen as unviable. This allowed for other cultural events to take place on other days. A mix of uses included two cafés, a grocery shop, a cooking school and a soda water manufacturer. The blend of activities, the multifunctionality, the combination of social and economic functions was found to work well. The economic activities were used to subsidize the social ones. At the same time, this funded the proper renovation of the heritage building.

To build interest in the building’s renovation, a symbolic €1 rent was requested from the city administration, with the obligation to invest €10,000 more into proper renovations. Through reinvestment this allowed for the creation of a new event venue and meeting space in the heart of the city. The knock-on effect of this development was seen on the neighbouring streets. While there were many shops that were closed and had dead façades, the renovated Old Market Hall dramatically changed the surrounding area. The reopening of the market gave an impulse to the neighbourhood, which became increasingly popular among younger people. As the project developed, Alianca Stará Tržnica began to see its role more widely in terms of urban renewal and as a stakeholder in contact engagement with city authorities and citizens alike (Open Heritage, 2020) about the development of neighbouring squares. Alianca Stará Tržnica began to work with various communities living in or using the area through events and focus groups, inquiring about their needs and barriers. Smaller projects to make spaces more functional, lively and enjoyable were implemented in the vicinity of the Old Market Hall. What was evident here was that cooperation among various stakeholders led to increased mutual benefits not only for the tenants but also for the wider community. Additionally, social behaviour (people visiting markets) changed with the programmed activities.

7 Conclusion

We conclude this chapter by showing how a process-based view of placemaking practices contributes to sustainable outcomes for city councils, placemaking organizations and local communities. The presented placemaking cases have a long-term perspective of collaboration, value creation and empowerment. They illustrate differences in the long-term and value creation instead of short-term participatory consultations.

The wide-ranging project in Vienna is a very long-lasting and large-scale project. The decision to develop or strengthen the central area of the city came from the top down and it naturally is harder to engage and involve general citizens in such an abstract endeavour. Local presence and activities communicate and show the potential of the place. However, the local activities evident in the Hersleb, Rhijnhuizen and Bratislava cases show how continuous day-to-day dialogue with local actors represent a different form of civic engagement that requires different project management skills to lay the foundation for a lengthy and highly engaged process. This form of collaboration represents a particular challenge for project management. Only through dialogue can the actors on all sides meet each other, engage and come to trust one another, even though the connections remain loose. All cases have peculiar difficulties, yet the long-lasting goals and strong engagement of the stakeholders makes them outstanding and impactful for urban regeneration processes.

Efforts to improve engagement is inherent within an engaged scholarship approach (Table 12.1). This engagement required the early involvement of multiple stakeholders in the process. This reveals the specifics of how placemaking practices will incorporate all stakeholder groups and ensure “stakeholder ownership”. A bottom-up approach to placemaking solutions which is completely proper will result in a more impactful and sustainable solution. Similarly, this offers a means to manage conflicting views through a strategy of arbitrage. These engaged scholarship elements can be summarized as follows.

To improve engagement within placemaking projects we focus on the following points:

  • The early inclusion of multiple stakeholders as partners – not customers or consumers

  • Bestowing a sense of ownership on multiple stakeholders

  • The acceptance of tension within opposing views and goals, i.e. to be managed (but not solved) by using a strategy of arbitrage

  • A shift in thinking from short-term to long-term project management perspectives

  • Consultation not as a series of events but an ongoing process


We would like to acknowledge the contributions of the following members of the Placemaking Europe project who have kindly offered their case history reports to make this chapter possible. Adam Curtis, Nabolagshager AS, Oslo, Norway ( and Veronika Hackl (0000-0001-5814-2827), Social Design, University of Applied Arts, Vienna, Austria (


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