Developers Should Know These Four Foundational Beliefs that Drive Third Placemaking


To start, Third Placemaking is a concept we’ve developed at Boxman Studios to codify how spaces can be designed for both commerce and community building. The term is a meeting point between a marketing concept: Third Place, and an architectural concept: Placemaking.

Third place is a marketing theory that suggests people spend most of their time in three places. The first and most frequented is your home. The second is your work or office. The third place is where you would go (outside of your home or work) to connect with your community- whatever that means to you.

The theory also prescribes how marketers might differentiate these spaces from others. Third Place touches more on the feeling of the place, and the community it creates. You might be surprised to hear that a third place does not have to be a physical place. It’s more of a spiritual, emotional, and mental space.

Contrary to third place, placemaking is very much about the physical layout and design of a space. MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning that defines placemaking as “The deliberate shaping of an environment to facilitate social interaction and improve a community’s quality of life.”

A quality place will be safe, connected, welcoming, and allow for authentic experiences. However, there are additional elements that go into developing these kinds of spaces. The architecture and design of space require a proper physical form, a mix of land uses and functions, and social opportunity. Simply, the physical space brings people physically together. Sustainable placemaking incorporates a strong sense of place rooted in human scale form that attracts activity and talented workers and contributes to regional economic prosperity.


Third Placemaking is Built on These Four Foundational Beliefs:

1. Mixed-use properties have become the default town-center.

The concept is called New Urbanism and it’s a planning and development approach that focuses on creating walkable blocks and streets, housing and shopping in proximity, and accessible public spaces. It’s pushing back on the post-WWII development methodologies which are typically sprawling, single-use, low-density patterns which has negative economic, health, and environmental ramifications. Mixed-use developers have been utilizing these principals to create attractive properties for tenants and their customers. The results are that in many cities, the mixed-use properties see more traffic than the downtown and urban areas.

2. There is an untapped symbiotic relationship between property owners, brands, and customers.

Whether we realize it or not, there is a way for retail properties, brands, and communities to benefit one another. People need communities to thrive. Communities need community centers to give people a place to gather. Brands need the community (read: market, people, persona) to buy into their vision and purchase products/services. Mixed-use real estate managers need to provide welcoming, clean, accessible places to attract people and thus sell leases to brands (tenants). Brands can use underutilized and negative space (space around and in-between buildings) on a property to sponsor community places that speak to their vision and inspire the people to engage in a community.

3. Activations should be hyper-focused on adding value to the community.

Ultimately, activations should be focused on supporting the place’s vibrancy rather than tying efforts to sales. You can learn more about what makes a place vital here. The defining elements of a vital place are the activities and opportunities that may be found there. You might expect to see commercial exchanges including shopping, eating, drinking, purchasing services and other forms of entertainment. But a pedestrian shouldn’t need to spend money to find an opportunity for engagement. Gratuitous activities like political oratory, feeding pigeons, people watching, taking a walk, or photographing people and places should be common sights. Activations should answer the question, “How can we program this space to bring meaning, fun, or growth to the people that come here?”

4. Public Spaces are for everyone.

And that means they should be accessible. Accessibility refers to the logistics of getting to and staying in a space. You want to choose a location where people, who may need special accommodations, will be able to physically approach you. You should also consider a location where the community and environment make you approachable. A quality activation location will be safe, connected, welcoming, and allow for authentic experiences. Third Placemaking doesn’t do much good if, in the end, no one spends time in the space.


Third placemaking can work as the foundation for a symbiotic relationship between mixed-use developers, brands, and the communities they serve. Using these principals, brands can develop authentic connections with their customers, communities can have free, accessible places to develop connections, and mixed-use properties benefit from the vibrancy these two parties bring. With a win-win-win opportunity like this, expect to see these industries taking advantage (to all our benefit) in the very near future.