Common Good Placemaking

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Kate Swade:

"A multiplicity of approaches fall under the banner of common good placemaking,

from garden cities to development trusts, hackspaces and community farms

There are three roles that are crucial in the creation of any place:

   Place-shaping: the rules, requirements and specifications of development
   Place-making: the design and construction
   Place-keeping: the long term management and stewardship of a place

There is a wide and varied set of approaches, tools and models that encompass all of these functions. They will vary hugely from place to place, but many of those present at Letchworth were passionate about the different types of ‘common good’ approaches that could fulfil all of these functions." (


Kate Swade:

Drawing on the discussions on the day, we would like to suggest some principles that might be common to all of these approaches:

Value principles

  • Land value should be held in trust, and increases in value collectivised rather than privatised
  • Local money should flow locally, supporting a vibrant economy and building prosperity

Governance principles

  • The role of the state should be enabling rather than controlling
  • Those who benefit from a place, and create value within it, should be involved in its governance.
  • Subsidiarity: decisions should be made at the lowest appropriate level

Design principles

  • There is no ‘one size fits all': the particularity of place and context is crucial
  • More than housing: places need an economic base
  • Design for the long term: places need to be flexible enough to allow for evolution"



... of placemaking that embrace some or all of these principles.

Kate Swade:

"Bologna has declared itself a ‘commons city’, bringing subsidiarity to the street corner and developing new forms of collaborative governance. Specific urban commons have been identified and management partnerships between city officials and local residents have been developed.

The Catalan Integral Cooperative takes a more radical approach, eschewing relations with the state, and supporting self-managing autonomous communities pursuing the common good, such as Calafou, a co-operatively run ex-industrial site that includes housing, permaculture and ‘eco-industrial’ workspace.

Led by its innovative mayor, Seoul in South Korea, is positioning itself as a ‘sharing city’, actively supporting car and commodity sharing and aiming to build more trust among its residents.

Barcelona is aiming to be a self sufficient, smart city, with a network of Fab Labs making much of what the city needs." (


Kate Swade:

"The way we do places is changing. After World War Two, the state – particularly local government – led the creation and development of our towns and cities. From active planning, through design, building and management, the state used to hold the many levers of place.

This has been changing for a long time: it’s hard now to imagine councils routinely employing architects and building housing and other amenities themselves. A key impact of austerity is the continued retreat of the state from various parts of placemaking, and it tends to be the private sector that is stepping in.

Outsourcing of planning and development control, delivery of almost all design and building and increasingly the management of public open and green space: the private sector’s role in our towns and cities is increasing, filling the gap left by the state.

For many people, this is an uncomfortable state of affairs. The basic contract of democratic accountability between citizen and state becomes one step removed. Maybe less obviously, this process also privatises value. Those who create the value in places – the people who live and work there, who spend money, shop, trade, eat, laugh and loiter in the streets – don’t benefit from that value. They don’t share in the success (and often ‘success’ results in increasing prices and rents, pushing the people who have created the value in a place out of it).

It is in this area, in this gap between the creation of value and those who benefit from it, that ‘common good placemaking’ may offer a useful framework. There is a multiplicity of approaches that we think fall under this banner, from garden cities and community land trusts, to development trusts, hackspaces and community farms. They all have a commitment to share value, to enrich the whole community rather than just individuals: to put people and the environment at the heart of places, and grow local prosperity rather than shareholder profits.

We were pleased to help organise the recent event in Letchworth around this concept of common good placemaking. There are many people exploring and creating places for the common good, and Letchworth was the beginning of a process aiming to bring them together. The rich discussions, debate and questioning helped us to reflect on what kind of principles might underpin the creation and maintenance of places that serve the common good.


The state and private sector have important roles to play in the future of our towns and cities, but these are not fixed. We think that the space between the market and the state needs to be further defined and grown, and that common good orientated approaches have the potential to create places that work for the 21st century.

Too often these approaches don’t often have visibility or credibility, on either a policy or practice level. I walked away from Letchworth wondering what the best way of harnessing some of the amazing passion and energy in that room would be." (