Why is placemaking important?

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February 2, 2017

By Christopher T. Roeder, International Director, JLL

Placemaking is a multi-faceted approach – some would say, a people-based approach – to the planning, design and management of public spaces. Recently, this definition has expanded to include not just public spaces but neighborhoods, and sometimes, entire cities.

Though placemaking is today a hotly debated issue among stakeholders such as municipal and urban planners, architects and the real estate development industry, the ideas behind placemaking are not new. The essence of placemaking can be traced back to the early 1960s and the writing of Jane Jacobs (‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities’ [1961]) and William H. Whyte.

“The street is the river of life of the city, the place where we come together, the pathway to the center.” — William H. Whyte

While creating and maintaining great public spaces, as envisaged by Jacobs and Whyte and later developed by groups such as the Project for Public Spaces and the Urban Land Institute, remains the core principle of placemaking, creating a vitality and energy around those public spaces is also seen as critical to the success of those spaces and the neighborhoods they serve.

Central SOMA

As attendees and participants in a conference held this week to discuss the Central SOMA plan can attest, the concept of placemaking is clearly a topical issue here in San Francisco.

Up to 5,000 new residential units, including affordable housing, and over 5 million square feet of new commercial office space could eventually be built in the area along 4th Street between Townsend and Market Streets.

That’s not all. The plan preserves existing light industrial space, encourages street-level retail such as stores and restaurants, and promotes walkability to support retail traffic by including pedestrian thoroughfares and bike-friendly streets where now only cars and buses travel.  It also includes public space.

The Central Subway, now being constructed underneath 4th  Street, will deliver thousands of workers, residents and visitors to Central SOMA daily. Placemaking is important for planners and developers to consider as they design the city’s next great neighborhood.

Central SOMA 2 - potential development

Photo credit: SOM via City of San Francisco

“To generate exuberant diversity in a city’s streets and districts four conditions are indispensable:

1. The district, and indeed as many of its internal parts as possible, must serve more than one primary function; preferably more than two…

2. Most blocks must be short; that is, streets and opportunities to turn corners must be frequent.

3. The district must mingle buildings that vary in age and condition, including a good proportion of old ones so that they vary in the economic yield they must produce. This mingling must be fairly close-grained.

4. There must be a sufficiently dense concentration of people, for whatever purposes they may be there…”  

—  Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

 About the author:


Chris leads the 32-person JLL brokerage team in San Francisco and is a member of the company’s Executive Council and Leadership Council. His primary business is representing institutional landlords and tenants throughout the city’s 85 million square foot commercial office sector. Chris has been a top producing broker for JLL since joining the firm in 2007, averaging over 70 transactions and more than one million square feet of leasing per year.

 Contact Chris directly by phone at +1 (415) 395-4971 or via email at chris.roeder@am.jll.com.


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