Pontevedra, and the city as a site of experimentation: Urban Leisure and Tourism Labs at Placemaking Europe 2022

Pontevedra, and the city as a site of experimentation: Urban Leisure and Tourism Labs at Placemaking Europe 2022



Involved parties

Urban Leisure and Tourism Labs

For cities and citizens, the global pandemic provided an opportunity to reflect on the social value of good public space, and the importance of place as an anchor for community building and social cohesion (Horgan, 2019)This September saw the first Placemaking Week Europe event since 2019, bringing together practitioners across the globe to share ideas on socio-spatial equity, from developers to academics and those creating change through insurgent tactics. Over 400 practitioners came together in Galicia, Northern Spain to network and exchange knowledge, within a uniquely nuanced setting.

The city of Pontevedra, host to the week-long event is promoted globally as an urban development pioneer, in the two decades since it radically redesigned its medieval core around the pedestrian. A focal point on the Portuguese Caminho, the city is an exemplar for 15-minute concept with important functions all accessible within walking distance. As social practice, placemaking puts collective resources (the commons) and local communities at the heart of the social innovation process – helping to create thriving and more resilient public spaces, seeding wonder and opportunity. Playing host to the global event, Spain’s most liveable city and ‘the biggest village in the world’ is home to some 85,000 inhabitants and significantly fewer private vehicles. The loss of industry and shipbuilding pushed Pontevedra to follow a human-centred regeneration process, in order to reverse decline and population loss. This year’s event created space for reflection on four key themes central ambitions for future-proofing cities – including innovation and the creative economy; creative bureaucracy; green and blue placemaking; and human scale development.  

A living case study, Pontevedra itself wants to keep and attract a new generation of creatives and relate their work with public space and public infrastructure enriching public life through continuous innovations and contribute to the success of the place through local economic activity. Indeed, the global shutdown forced cities everywhere to reconsider urban policies in favour of different types of city users, including historically excluded stakeholders such as those with additional mobility needs, and socio-economic circumstances. Creative communities, who not long-ago scholars considered vital actors in driving urban regeneration processes, have suffered greatly during the lockdown – have emerged as a group whose Rights to the City need safeguarding (Florida, 2014; Lefebvre, 2012).

Familiar tales of market-led gentrification abound, where creative actors – instrumental in activating local vibrancy – are evicted to make way for rent-generating functions of lesser public value (. Facilitating a workshop at Placemaking Week allowed for the mapping tools and tactics that these communities use to offset the spatial precarity brought about by neoliberal development. Our session included a lively discussion, where participants were asked to share stories of activism in the urban context, preceded by a presentation in which we shared our vision for Regenerative Placemaking, and the tools we use at Inholland’s Urban Leisure and Tourism living labs. Myself and Susannah Montgomery (Sustainable Media Lab) shared stories from North and South America, and were joined by urban designer Filemon Wolfram (of global environmental consultancy Sweco) who spoke about sauna-activism in Helsinki.  

All of those present were asked to share their own local stories of how creative communities – at the heart of socio-spatial transformation – were engaging in placemaking as a way to push back against their displacement through seemingly rampant capitalist development. In the spirit of collaboration and mutual learning, our workshop offered a space for place-makers to connect and make links, as much as discuss engagement-led approaches to solving intractable urban problems. Tools such our Place-sensing Map encouraged participants to reflect on familiar settings, evoking histories of renewal, eviction and overtourism. We heard stories from Denver, Berlin and San Diego; and best practice from creative ecosystems in Italy, Spain, Greece and the Netherlands – where a decades-old artist occupation has been embraced as a distinctive cultural quarter in Groningen.

The workshop provoked animated discussion between creatives and developers – around value and authenticity, recognising the role creative communities can play in sustainable development processes. Within the tourism context, where boundaries of local and visitor are ever-blurred, creatives can offer a platform for dialogue and exchange, and act as stewards for equitable decision-making and community engagement (Horgan, 2022). To do so however, their needs must be accommodated – in terms of dignified housing; relevant supports; and increased agency in development processes. Our workshop revealed that across the world, cycles of displacement may be countered though giving increased visibility to creative communities, and by developing metrics for evaluation of impact.  

The Politics of Space however, and the polarisation of our urban population along populist lines, present a great threat to creative communities (Horgan and Dimitrijević, 2020). To counter hegemonic narratives around creative practice and public value, we need new narratives that expose the fallacy of unbounding capitalism, that embrace more regenerative approaches (Mazzucato, 2018). Regenerative placemaking for sustainable tourism takes a systems approach, to discover the unique potential of a place, leveraging the capability of tourism living systems (including local cultural and creative industries) to catalyse collaboration and social transformation (Bellato et al., 2022). Fundamentally, regenerative tourism challenges the dominant economic growth paradigm, which has often failed to capture the contribution of creatives. Inholland’s recently established centre of excellent ENSUT, are working with a diverse set of partners to develop applied research that connects the Placemaking concepts, to more equitable urban futures in tourism. We are keen to learn about tactics creative groups are pursuing in your city, and to make connections with destination ecosystems near and far.