Attracting Locals Downtown: Everyday Leisure as a Place-Making Initiative


  • Amanda J. Johnson University of Manitoba, Winnipeg
  • Troy D. Glover University of Waterloo
  • William P. Stewart University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign


urban form, urban vitality, built environment, public space, sociability, visual methods


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Many urban centers across North America represent landscapes of neglect and narratives of tragedy. The effects of suburbanization and sprawl have led to the decay and abandonment of existing, older inner cities and have contributed to the demise of many city centers. The process of urban revitalization recognizes that multiple strategies can be employed to reverse the effects of urban decay and create downtown areas that are more appealing to current and prospective residents. The purpose of this study was to examine everyday forms of urban leisure and their relationship with place-making and urban revitalization initiatives. This examination of recreation and leisure in an urban context acknowledges that successful and vibrant downtown areas are major sites of everyday leisure. Here we argue that parks, green spaces, and recreation facilities play an important role in successful urban revitalization strategies. This study was conducted in Kitchener, Ontario, a fast growing midsized Canadian city. Using a photo-elicitation technique, 21 participants were asked to photograph meaningful landscapes in the downtown area. Findings indicate that everyday social interactions are supported by recreation and leisure spaces and opportunities and are central to place-making and successful urban revitalization strategies in downtown areas. The participants in this study suggested that incorporating vibrant and animated places and highlighting local character in a downtown context served to create landscapes consistent with place-making efforts. These findings are significant because the ongoing emphasis on the economic value of leisure and recreation spaces has led to the widespread growth of impressive, yet often depersonalized, sporting complexes, resorts, shopping and entertainment centers, convention facilities, and amusement parks in urban centers in many urban areas. Instead, efforts aimed at place-making and reversing the effects of urban decay should incorporate the perspective of residents and provide places conducive to social interactions that are unique and important for everyday leisure.



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