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“Placemaking”: a new approach to designing and managing urban public spaces

An interview with Kathy Madden and Fred Kent

Based in New York City, PPS or "Project for Public Spaces" is an innovating urban planning and design company at the forefront of the contemporary trend of advocacy for better public spaces around the world. Though they regard Paris as an inspiring example, they also suggest ways to enhance the role of its public spaces towards more lively and more economically sustainable neighborhoods.

Dossier : Espaces publics urbains et concertation

Kathy Madden is senior vice-president of Project for Public Spaces. Since 1975, Kathy has been involved in all aspects of the organization’s work. She also currently directs PPS’s Placemaking Training and Public Space Research and Publications programs.
Kathy has co-authored and written both books and articles, including the PPS best-selling publication How to Turn a Place Around, which has now been translated into Czech and Japanese. In 1995, Kathy started the Urban Parks Institute with a $2.2 million grant from the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund. The Institute brought together over 2,000 parks leaders from both the private and public sectors in eight national conferences and four regional workshops. The Institute produced a volume of research and publications related to urban parks, and created a major online resource center for urban parks best practices and research, Urban Parks Online, which attracts over one million page views annually.

Fred Kent is the president of PPS. He is a leading authority on revitalizing city spaces and one of the foremost thinkers in livability, smart growth and the future of the city. As founder and president of Project for Public Spaces, he is known throughout the world as a dynamic speaker and prolific ideas man.
Fred studied with Margaret Mead and worked with William H. Whyte on the Street Life Project, assisting in observations and film analysis of corporate plazas, urban streets, parks and other open spaces in New York City. The research resulted in the now classic The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, published in 1980, which laid out conclusions based on decades of meticulous observation and documentation of human behavior in the urban environment.


Video 1. Duration: 06:11
1 - What is Project for Public Spaces and What is "placemaking"?

Video 2. Duration: 05:05
2 - How can public spaces be a resource in hard economic times?
3 - How do you involve the community in your design projects?

Video 3. Duration: 06:19
4 - What do you think about Paris’s parks and gardens?
5 - What is a place manager?

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Further reading

  • PPS’s website :
  • Madden, Kathy. 2001. How To Turn a Place Around: A Handbook for Creating Successful Public Spaces, New York: PPS Inc.
  • Whyte, William H. 1980. The Social Life of Small Urban Public Places, Washington DC: Conservation Foundation.

To cite this article:

Michèle Jolé & Stéphane Tonnelat, ““Placemaking”: a new approach to designing and managing urban public spaces. An interview with Kathy Madden and Fred Kent”, Metropolitics, 23 November 2010. URL :

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Centre national de recherche scientifique
Journal supported by the Institut des Sciences Humaines et Sociales (Institute of Human and Social Sciences) of the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS)