What is a Placemaker?

Categories: Articles

By Patrick Kraich, Public Programs Coordinator

Placemakers are transformers. They can look at a space and see what and how it may be changed to produce a place that establishes or adds value to a city. They may not be trained architects or urban designers; rather, they are individuals who utilize their community’s assets in a more advantageous way.

Learn more about historic placemakers and the qualities they shared by attending the Placemakers talk on October 17.

Terracing extended the usable area of the Palatine Hill
Terracing extended the usable area of the Palatine Hill. Photo by Flickr user antmoose.

Emperor Augustus, Rome
63 BC–14 AD

It was Augustus who saw to the renewal and expansion of Rome in the first century, CE, becoming in effect the first Roman real estate developer.

Augustus was a pioneer of placemaking via regulation and law by establishing building codes, reorganizing Rome into neighborhoods administered at the local level, and advocating for building maintenance and safer streets.

Andrew Ellicott's revision of L'Enfant's 1791 plan for the "Federal City", later Washington City, District of Columbia (Thackara & Vallance, Philadelphia, 1792}.
Andrew Ellicott’s revision of L’Enfant’s 1791 plan for the “Federal City”, later Washington City, District of Columbia. Thackara & Vallance sc., Philadelphia 1792. Courtesy Library of Congress,

Pierre L’Enfant, Washington, DC

L’Enfant had a strong vision for the design of the new capital city in the District of Columbia. He chose a layout similar to the then French capital city of Versailles, envisioning a system of intersecting diagonal avenues superimposed over a grid system.

The avenues radiated from the two most significant building sites that were to be occupied by houses for Congress and the President. Due to a number of factors he did not get to execute his vision but L’Enfant’s radial plan for the capital endured.

Aerial view of suburban Levittown, Pennsylvania. Image courtesy the College of New Jersey.
Aerial view of suburban Levittown, Pennsylvania. Image courtesy the College of New Jersey.

William “Bill” Levitt, Long Island, NY

With the return of thousands of war veterans eager to marry and start families—and just as eager to move away from crowded cities—the suburbs seemed like an attractive idea. Levitt, a builder and real estate developer, recognized and grasped this opportunity.

Levitt’s innovation was to have enough volume so the houses could be constructed as if they were on an assembly line. Nicknamed the “King of Suburbia” and credited as the father of the modern American suburb, Levitt rapidly symbolized the new suburban growth with his mass-production techniques.

Attend the Placemakers talk on Tuesday, October 17.