Placemaking with People

| Anna Eaton

I went to an interesting lunchtime talk this week about placemaking with people. It was hosted by the Participatory City Foundation with guest speakers from La Pépinière. La Pépinière are a Canadian design collective that “develops new self-managed spaces that promote local culture, fostering community involvement and improving living environments”.

La Pépinière Founders Maxim Bragoli and Jerome Glad spoke about their business model, collaborative approach and their journey. They started a few years ago with one community space in Montreal between a road, railway and the river, and now they have over 20 sites in the city and beyond. Check out their website for some amazing photographs of the spaces they have developed so far.

Each space is different. Some have chickens, community gardens, bars and public karaoke stages. Others have table tennis, picnic tables, games and markets stalls. Many of their spaces have food stalls, seating areas, and libraries. They are even trialling a camping area in The Gardeneries, which is their urban agriculture garden at the foot of the Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

Collaboration and integration

Maxim and Jerome had originally set out to make “cool stuff and spaces”. But they soon realised how integral the participation and community aspect was for their spaces. They were open about how La Pépinière originated as a co-design project amongst designers, but now they work with local people and community groups.

Now La Pépinière plan and start projects and then let the community take it over. So developments are built and run with the community. Jermone explained how in one space, an agricultural group came and developed a community garden which gave produce to local people. The garden ended up being managed by two homeless men who had originally slept in the space that was developed.

As a result of this approach, they have found themselves becoming facilitators between city government and the community, who often don’t speak the same language.  They told a story about one project where a borough asked them for help, having dismissed a local group who said they wanted to develop the space. La Pépinière then reached out to the local group and involved them, helping to build a dialogue and trust between the group and the borough government. Now the local group are running the project.

Other highlights from their talk were:

  • There is no perfect recipe for co-design. They found that ‘doing things’, not just consulting, naturally involves others. People easily become interested in the things they see happening, rather than things that are just being talked about
  • Listening is therefore very important. Feedback within and during the use of spaces is very rich. People often say what they want more of less of once they experience a space.
  • A community space doesn’t have to have constant activity. Success can simply be creating beautiful, useful spaces for the community to gather together.
  • Legislation can get in the way of placemaking (and keeping chickens!). Maxim and Jerome explained how they found that developing spaces over spring and summer periods as ‘pop ups’ allowed them to work with more flexible events legislation in Montreal instead of the often restrictive permanent spaces and structure legislation in the city. Jermone used chickens as an example. He explained that you are not allowed to keep chickens in the city, but as part of an event or pop-up you can.
  • What next? La Pépinière are embarking upon a Pep Academy to train and nurture interns, staff and citizens together; taking forward their co-design and collaborative methods.

Participatory City and La Pépinière have much in common. We were excited to learn at the event that Participatory City’s Every One Every Day initiative is embarking on a similar project working with Barking and Daganham’s green amenity spaces. There are over 5,000 of these types of spaces in the borough. They will start by asking Barking and Daganham residents whether they would like to use some of the green spaces and exploring what they might do with them. We look forward to seeing how things progress!

Photo by Benjamin Combs

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