Urban Planners as Community Healers through Art-Making

APA New Jersey Chapter


Friday, May 5, 2017
11:10 a.m. - 12:40 p.m. EDT

CM | 1.50

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Place IT helps urban planners build a relationship with the public through innovative visioning that uses storytelling, objects, art-production and play to tap their on-the-ground knowledge. Designed to create a safe space for everyone to come together, listen, share, collaborate, and generate ideas for their communities. This method improves communication, inquiry, collaboration, and generates innovative ideas in a quick and playful manner. The over 500 onehour workshops I have facilitated across the country has helped participants find their voice and power in the urban planning process. Cities have their own visual and spatial language that people use. With recycled objects, residents build solutions for their community, based on their memories and visual and spatial knowledge, which breaks down age, gender, race, profession, personality type, and language barriers. Rather than asking residents what they want or need in their community, the workshop begins with reflection to generate more meaningful engagement. This helps residents understand their attachment to which can be used as a metric to measure development of urban plans or policies and to promote further discussion.


1.     Humanize the Urban Planning Process:  Everyone is an urban planner and it’s our job to create a safe space for participants to reveal, respect, and translate their knowledge and experiences into the planning process and documents.

2.     Attachment to Place:  Humans attached themselves to people, places and objects to survive. Place It begins the workshops by having participants reveal their sentiments (not data, points of view or opinions). Personal experience, memory and narratives are intangible but no-less-integral elements of a city that transform mere infrastructure into place. This process also increases empathy between the group.

3.     The Power of Using Objects:  Building memories and experiences with objects allows participants to understand, investigate and remember the rich spatial and physical details of places that matter. Words can sometimes overlook the rich details of places that objects expose through their shape, color, and texture. Participants attach meaning to objects and they become artifacts between enduring places of the past, present and future. Planners and participants can easily and quickly transfer that rich visual and tangible spatial knowledge of places into plans, designs, and developments by using objects.


1.     Communication Options:  Words can sometimes be inflexible or limiting in articulating feeling so integrating objects, and hands-on activities allows for all voices to be expressed.

2.     Make planning meetings Active not passive:  When we start by doing something rather than just talking, we inspire hope that what we are doing will turn out well, so I use design thinking as an action. This allows participants to imagine, investigate, construct, and reflect. By reflecting, touching, moving, and playing with objects on imaginary maps, participants can quickly inquire, discover, photo-type, and experiment with solutions.

3.     Collaborate:  Working together is the most important part of the planning process and people have to realize that there are no right, wrong ideas, rather how our ideas impact each other and our environment. By having participants build together with objects they can quickly communicate and test their visual and spatial ideas and build off each other to find common values and generate cutting-edge ideas and solutions for their communities.

4.     Outcomes:  The Place It workshop helps participants with skills in critical thinking, creative problem solving, collaboration, and civic literacy which will increase there likelihood that they will be engage in the planning process in the future.


James Rojas


Contact Info

Leonardo Vazquez, leo@artsbuildcommunities.com