How placemaking can influence personal transformation


I’ve written a lot about issues of urban planning and placemaking. Mostly this is because this is an area of obsession fascination with me and I find myself having lots to say on the topic.

But still, as this site has the tag line of “Practical Strategies for Sticking It To The Man” a worthwhile question to ask is “what does urban planning have to do with The Man?”


First, let’s review who The Man is. It’s not Wall Street or the government or the police or anyone specific. (Remember, if you have to choose between conspiracy and incompetence, you’re better off choosing the latter.) It’s the system that keeps us unhappy.

Next, let’s review the two other most popular topics on this site. Money (“Radical Finances”) and travel (and its fun enabler: travel hacking). Put that together with placemaking and what do these have in common?

They are all areas through which you can affect and transform all other areas of your life.


Money can be a source of stress or a source of strength. It can affect every aspect of your life, for worse or for better. Getting your finances in order can affect your friendships, relationships, careers, or really anything that affects your heart and mind. When you’re feeling out of control, how can you work toward your own goals, or find a place of calm and peace inside yourself?

Fixing the money problem won’t solve every other problem in your life, of course, but because money touches so many areas, fixing that one problem may be one of the most efficient ways to tackle many areas of your life at once.

I’m a few years into being completely debt-free now, and believe me, there is not a day that goes by where it doesn’t affect me in a positive way.


Planning, self-discovery, sacrifice, adventure, what could be more transformative than travel?

In order to travel somewhere, you need to figure out lots of things, from how you’re going to pay for it (I recommend paying with money) to the logistics involved in making it happen. And once you’re there, you need to contend with all the blessings and curses of being somewhere else.

And yes, you need to focus inward as much as you focus outward on your travels. After all, as Alain De Botton mentions in his excellent book The Art of Travel, he realizes only after he arrived the ghastly truth that he had “inadvertently brought [him]self” with him on his travels.

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By focusing on travel, you can tackle so much more than merely where you are going.


Which brings us back to all this chatter about cities and places and transit and home ownership.

To put it simply: our environment affects us.

This means our whole environment. Everyone would agree that our home is one of the most important places in our lives. If you don’t feel comfortable at home, it’s going to be much harder to thrive.

But what about all those other places? What about what you see when you walk out of your door? Your view out the window may be pretty, but is it functional? Can you get out and go without being forced to get in a car and sit in traffic?

Because “traffic” is a place too. You may feel “freedom” about being able to drive places, but if you’ve ever complained about being “stuck” in traffic, you need to see how these things are two sides of the same coin.

You are not your car. And it’s not a stretch to say that most places built within the past-half century has been built for cars. This has a psychic cost to people, because you are living in a place that wasn’t made for you.

So working to alter this trend is of prime importance. You can do things on your own (by moving to a place that’s more designed for people), but this is also space where advocacy is of prime importance. Because when we walk out our door, we are in a shared space. What we do with this matters.

All the more reason to talk about it and put it on people’s minds.


When it comes to personal transformation, I believe that you focus on the root causes of things, the places where you can have the greatest impact. Money, travel, and placemaking aren’t necessarily the only ones, but they are areas that fit that bill for me. And I suspect, you too. Start here.

But enough about me. What area of your life do you feel it’s best to focus on for your own personal transformation?

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