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A Letter to Future Placemakers from Elly Mead: Five Thoughts to Share

Posted on 10 November 2021

Written by:

Elly Mead

For our new blog series ‘A Letter to Future Placemakers‘, we’re showcasing letters that thoughtfully share learning points from your lived and/or professional experience with the placemakers of the future. Through this open call, we are asking you to define your audience and place to call your future placemakers to action. Who will shape the future of our towns and cities, and what do you want them to know?

Dear Future Placemakers,

You are everywhere and everyone, in every neighbourhood and street across the UK. We are all placemakers, and the best advice I can offer when I reflect on my own journey as a placemaker is in five parts; find your team, make your mark, take up space, ask questions and always continue learning.

Find your team

Find those who inspire you, mentors and friends who lift you up and help you see paths and opportunities in places you couldn’t before. But beyond that, find people in the everyday who are inspirational. Placemakers are everywhere. In every nook and cranny exist wonderful people who are trying to make the world better, both individually and collectively. Seek out like-minded people to work with, as well as those who challenge your views and preconceptions to help you see things through new lenses

Sometimes you may be a one-person team, chugging away to keep yourself moving. However, we are a combination of all our experiences, and at the core are lessons and words from our teams, the people we have met, past and current. For me particularly, finding female role models was a huge turning point in developing my architectural voice – women who could offer advice and insight and who understood the difficulties and joys of being a female placemaker in a predominantly male-dominated industry.

The Glass-House team at a recent event alongside some of our partners! A fantastic team

Make your mark

I think it is a very natural aspect of human nature to want to make our mark, both figuratively and literally on the places and spaces around us, to communicate with others as well as to start to make these places our own. Often if you ask architects, urban designers or planners “why did you pursue a built environment career path?”, the answer will be intertwined with the idea of making a mark in our urban spaces, of creating a legacy beyond themselves.

Chalk Drawings from our Urban Activation event in Redbridge.

Take up space

I think making your mark and taking up space are closely interlinked, for me they are both underpinned by understanding that we all deserve a seat at the table of placemaking – and having confidence in this belief. Taking up space can be giving yourself permission to walk into that room, join that conversation or sign up for that workshop ( although this is often an act I find myself needing to practice continually). We all have value in placemaking spaces and conversations, a unique perspective and experience of life that adds another thread to the complex tapestry of our shared built environments. 

Ask questions

Even if you might feel stupid doing so. By asking questions at the beginning of a conversation (or project), dialogue can be developed that can open new doors and pathways, or just help you (and others) understand a concept better. There is no shame in not knowing something, and often by asking questions you can encourage others to share their knowledge, both lived and learnt. In reality, few of us are a ‘jack of all trades’, but instead our communities are made up of lots of parcels of knowledge. I am often struck during our workshops by the depth and breadth of our participants’ knowledge about their estate, neighbourhood, town or area, and also by what they have to offer through their lived and professional experience – whatever their areas of work. If we can share these knowledge parcels more effectively and generously, everyone will benefit.

None of the advice in this letter is something I achieve flawlessly at every step. In fact, I often fall short, which brings us to the final part of advice…

Keep learning

Continually, over and over, new things and old. If we can keep ourselves open to experiences outside of our own, different perspectives and ideas (some that we probably won’t agree with), we can keep learning as well as build empathy and understanding of alternative world views and experiences. 

Placemaking, architecture and urban design are all constantly evolving, adapting and changing.

This letter is in many ways written to myself as well as to future placemakers, and explores a few of the core facets that I try to embed into my current practice. We are on the lookout for more Letters to Future Placemakers, so if you would like to contribute to this series you can find out more here.