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The Big Picture and Placemaking

Placemaking is the process of creating spaces that people want to live, work and socialise in. It’s a location-based process driven predominantly by local authorities, private retail owners or developers, all of whom are responsible for demonstrating that they’ve given thought to creating a sense of place in a particular area.

Placemaking covers a number of disciplines and is not one sole focus or action. It brings together architectural, economic, analytic, and community considerations with the objective of creating somewhere that people want to be. It capitalises on community assets, positively affecting the happiness and well-being of residents and visitors, and as a result making the area more desirable.

The Big Picture (TBP) are very much a part of this process, and although not, strictly speaking, “placemakers”, we have a profound understanding of “placemaking”, where cinema is a vital part of the placemaking picture.

A pure regeneration plan for a town or city centre can, of course, refresh and improve a local economy in the short term. But placemaking is about looking at the bigger, longer-term picture and a three-hundred-and-sixty degree vision is needed to fully transform an area. This holistic strategy will need to integrate with the local infrastructure and councils are well-advised to develop civic partnerships with developers and shopping centres in order to fulfil an [ever-evolving] 10-15 year plan.

With local high streets all over the country struggling to keep tenants in units, the challenge to placemaking is refilling these units, thereby boosting the vibrancy of an area. Lots of empty spaces tend to bring the overall value of an area down resulting in less people wanting to live in there, a lower standard of living, and rising vandalism and crime rates. Council resources are then drained trying to reverse this negative domino effect.

To create a local community space that looks attractive but is unused in evening times will only create eight hours of activity in an area, again leaving it somewhat unappealing when this activity dies down after a certain time. Cinema bridges the day and nighttime economies to reverse the process of neglect and disinterest setting in. As a medium that attracts all demographics, irrespective of social class, race or gender, the universal appeal of cinema makes it a unique leisure attractor.

A key aspect of placemaking is to ensure flexibility within your approach. While it may be tempting to assume a placemaking project in an area is “finished", the reality is that it should never be viewed as such. Retail and leisure trends are constantly changing and it’s vital for a local authority (or whoever is orchestrating the placemaking process) to be on the pulse of these developments to ensure an area stays relevant and desirable. “Things change”, a statement equally true of placemaking.

The Challenge With Placemaking

It’s a fact of life that if an area isn’t appealing to live in, people will move away. Younger generations won’t have a reason to stick around and will often find bigger, more exciting cities or towns to move to that cater more fully to their needs.

Placemaking aims to correct this by creating a lively, atmospheric place to live and work where there wasn’t one before. If people have no desire - or financial ability - to live in a town or city centre, the vibrancy ebbs away and such an area can become ghetto-like.

Before you begin the process of placemaking it’s vital to know what the “why” is - why you want to do what you’re trying to do, exactly what you’re trying to achieve and who you are appealing to. Without these definitives the process has no end goal and therefore no quantifiable results. And it’s always good to get feedback straight from the horse’s mouth, that is to know what residents of the local area want from where they live or work, and what would make a place more desirable rather than someone external commenting from afar. Don’t be shy in reaching out for this information - after all, they’re the ones who will soon make it clear if the plan is moving along the right path or not and by continuing to live there or moving away.

Why “Placemake” At All?

Often the primary problem is the lack of vision for, or awareness of, the scope of the project. Placemaking is not an overnight strategy and is certainly not a quick fix to any regeneration requirements, but needs to be thoroughly planned. If a local authority has a clear and exciting vision for a place of interest then we can help with the realisation of this but the more detailed the vision the better.

It’s important to note that the approach shouldn’t solely be based on cherry picking the best bits from another successful model. Copy and pasting a particular feature won't make it right for any location - there’s no guarantee of replicating the same success. It should be a promotion of strengths and best qualities, bringing them into focus and exploiting them so as to be an original celebration of what the area has to offer. Alternatively (or as well as) the rich heritage of the region, where relevant, can and should be used as a selling point.

Problems Arising From Placemaking

For us to work effectively on a placemaking project we need a comprehensive overview and understanding of your vision. Cinema is a part of the overall plan, rather than being the sole solution, and so the advice we give (based on our feasibility reporting and due diligence studies) is based on looking at the whole picture. We also determine which adjacencies will work best in complementing your cinema site, who the ideal audience will be and what they’ll desire from the leisure development. Which cinema operator is right for the development is also a key element, whether it’s a mainstream multiplex, a boutique arthouse or something more premium, positioning strategy is something we’re experienced in and pride ourselves on.

We would expect a client to have researched their placemaking vision adequately prior to sharing it with us, in order for it to have the best possible chance of success in the long run. If the plan is not yet at this stage however, we often advise that it’s a wise move to go on a “fact-finding mission” to surrounding localities to see which elements of vibrant town or city centres work well. Again, let us reiterate that by this we don’t advise you to copy exactly from other areas, one size really doesn’t fit all, but to use the fact-finding mission as inspiration and to see in action what works well and what doesn’t.

One thing we pride ourselves on in this context is our ability to bring together many different entities that are relevant to placemaking. We use our vast network of connections to give legs to your vision, whether you need to reach out to a Virtual Reality (VR) company or a pop-up food specialist, we can help connect you to the right people. This is illustrated in the carrying out of our recent annual conference at The Everyman Cinema in Liverpool, prior to Revo 2019, which is one of a kind in its provision of an end-to-end view of the market. We bring together property developers, local authorities, F&B experts, architects, cinema operators and research specialists to really give you The Big Picture - our name isn’t accidental.

The Big Picture’s Role in Placemaking

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