First Comes ‘Place-Receiving’

Chuck Wolfe
3 min readMar 16, 2021

Is there a predicate to “placemaking” where a place is analyzed and mastered? Is that process of immersion, which I so love to emphasize, part of the placemaking process, or should it be called something else? To many, the question poses a distinction without a difference.

Nonetheless, in talking about Sustaining a City’s Culture and Character during these past few weeks with people from all walks of life, one theme recurs. Many wonder how we take the places we have and understand them before plotting their improvement.

But wait. I’ve written about this before, seven years ago, in my old blog, myurbanist, and, eventually, in Seeing the Better City.

I really think we should be more intellectually honest before we sustain, replenish, remake, or co-create. We should give the foundational research about our neighborhoods, squares, streets, sidewalks/footpaths, and parking lots a plain language name. One More Time: First Comes Place-Receiving.

Here, slightly updated, is what I’ve said before:

In 1997, I returned to Europe after a long absence. My Paris photograph, above, jump-started a then-dormant fascination with the scenery of urban life and form.

I later digitized the photograph to enhance the Eiffel Tower’s contrasts with the layered scene on the Pont d’léna, and the Champs de Mars beyond. My goal? An indelible impression, evoking a provocative, dream-like quality, consistent with a profound place-based memory.

Call this informal process “place-receiving,” and not placemaking.

Is place-receiving composed of unique occurrences, limited only to when and where we, the users, find them? Can they be replicated? If so, how?

These questions raise a practical side-and a real challenge-in assuring that placemaking efforts dovetail with the human nature or natural systems of place-receiving described here.

The challenge comes from today’s renewed interest in creating special urban places for people-whether public, private, or somewhere between-often offered by design professionals or…

Chuck Wolfe

Charles R. Wolfe founded the Seeing Better Cities Group in Seattle and London to improve the conversation around how cities grow and evolve across the world.