Back in 2001 I was part of a group of downtown advocates who arranged to have Fred Kent, co-founder of the Project for Public Spaces (in 1975!), come to Salem to share ideas on urban vitality and “place making.” It was a great day. We walked around Salem, had a conference at Willamette, and then Mr. Kent gave a presentation at the Reed Opera House in the evening. Kent got a bit frustrated after a meeting with the Salem’s Director of Transportation at the time. They certainly had different views on the purpose of streets – which for Mr. Kent comprise the largest part of the “public realm” and should serve many purposes beyond just moving cars.

I recommend this interview with Fred Kent on the PPS website.

Q: People are looking for ways to involve themselves in their communities.They seek gathering places, more connections with the sources of food and other products they need, and the ability to walk and to ride bicycles. What is catalyzing this shift, and how do you see it affecting the city planning process in the future?

FK: Our urban areas are coming full circle. Over the last 100 years, we got off track. For centuries, we had compact urban centers. Then, industrialization and pollution made cities so unpleasant that suburbsgained enormous traction—and we started designing cities like suburbs.

. . .

Thoreau once said,‘There is no value in life except what you choose to place upon it and no happiness in any place except what you bring to it yourself.’ In this light, place making becomes a dynamic human function: it is an act of liberation, of staking claim, and of beautification; it is true human empowerment.” Many other people sounded this theme—that placemaking has to be done respectfully if we are to build communities we want to live in.

At PPS, we believe place making is an intensely human activity that naturally involves people of all ages, incomes, and cultures. The community itself must to be the driving force in creating a vision for making a place. Then, planners and designers can help the community turn the vision into a reality.