Our speaker series continued on February 3rd with a presentation from Conway’s own Nina Antonetti. Nina has worked as an architectural and landscape historian for many years and she now serves as the Conway School’s Director of Advancement and Strategic Initiatives. Before coming to the Conway School, her work included teaching in the Landscape Studies Program at Smith College courses on exploring the histories and theories of sustainable design, environmental justice, food security, sprawl, and urban public space. Nina sits on the Placemaking Leadership Council, which was formed “to strengthen placemaking as an international movement and to support a community of practice for placemakers working in many diverse contexts” (www.pps.org).

So it seemed appropriate that Nina’s presentation on Monday evening focused on placemaking, a relatively new term to describe steps taken to achieve an old idea. Placemaking is the process of creating spaces that are designed to express the values of the people who share the space and create the framework for people to connect with one another.

Nina shared with the class an experience that proved to be her introduction to placemaking. Years ago, Nina worked in Washington, D.C. in a building near the Smithsonian Mall. She regularly walked around the mall to escape the confines of her office and to enjoy the outdoor park. One day, she found that the Smithsonian Mall, a space Nina knew so well, had been transformed by the AIDS quilt show. That familiar lawn, cloaked in an expansive sea of handmade AIDS quilts, created a memorial dedicated to those who lost their battle with AIDS.  She watched as people navigated the lawn with a different pace, a different awareness of the space they now occupied. It was this moment that Nina learned the power of placemaking as activism. The process of transforming a space, designing something that is bigger than a collection of people, is arguably a form of activism.

Nina share several important resources of placemaking, including, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces by William Whyte and The Life and Death of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs. Nina ended the presentation with some provocative thoughts. Everyone has a right to live in a great place. More importantly, everyone has a right to contribute to making the place they already live great. Placemaking is about the people and the process.  It’s inspiring to think about how as ecological designers, we have the opportunity to integrate knowledge and understanding of the ecological systems in the role of placemaking.

More information on the Project for Public Spaces can be found at www.pps.org.

Marie Macchiarolo came to Conway from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. Her winter term project is a food security plan for the City of Springfield, MA.