Our food and farm co-ops are devoted to place-based food, pushing the envelope and their creative edges in order to keep 'local food' a meaningful concept as it becomes increasingly mainstream and difficult to define. Co-ops, like food, are inherently grounded in place, as they arise from the needs of communities. When the following article appeared, it led us to consider how not only are successful co-ops place-based, but also place-centred.  For all the good intentions and efforts of thoughtful design, for a co-op to thrive, it must also remain centred on place.

The following article from the Project for Public Spaces outlines the differences between Design-Centred and Place-Centred approaches to community development, which we think can be easily translated to approaches for co-operative development.


The following article is reposted from the Project for Public Spaces website

Is Your City Design-Centered or Place-Centered?

When an opportunity to develop a site in your city comes up, what kind of approach do the people leading the process take? Do they treat the site as an independent piece of real estate, to be interpreted by architects and planners first before involving any of the local residents? Or do they reach out to people to find out what needs already exist in the area around that site, and then begin devising a plan with the community?

We call the former of these two a Design-Centered approach, and the latter a Place-Centered approach. One of our 11 Placemaking Principles is that it is critical to remember, in any project, that you are creating a place, not a design. While good design is important to creating great places, it is but one tool in your kit–not the driving force behind good Placemaking. When a community is involved from (or even before) the start of a design process, that process serves the site and the people who will use it, instead of serving the designers’ own interests. This creates places that are accessible, dynamic, and inclusive–the kind of places that are central to building strong neighborhoods and cities.

To move toward an Architecture of Place, we must all advocate for our cities to take a Place-Centered approach to creating new buildings and public spaces. Below, we break down how these two approaches take on various elements of the Placemaking process. Most projects are a mix of the two, and some start with one approach and shift to another part-way through; there’s certainly a lot of gray area, but go take a look below and see if you can divine whether your city is more Design-Centered, or Place-Centered.


Here are 7 reasons why we think the tenets of the Place-Centred Approach have incredible relevance for co-operative development (as modified from the document above to reflect factors for co-operative success). Place-Centred Co-ops:

  1. are place-driven. The community, including demographics, existing businesses, and community partners, is observed, considered, and mapped before any co-op design work starts. The co-op is considered as an important node in a larger ecosystem.
  2. are community-based. Since the people who live and work in the community already know what problems and strengths they are dealing with, they are the experts, and their knowledge is seen as the most important resource for determining how the site will be shaped. As the 7th of the International Co-operative Alliance principles acknowledges, co-ops practice concern for community, and work for their sustainable development.
  3. let people/neighbours/community members shape the architecture. The design of the co-op highlights what’s great about the community around it, and draws its own strengths from how it enhances its surroundings.
  4. start by looking for partners from the community that can provide a basic knowledge of how the co-op will be used in order to ensure that the design is inclusive and accessible to the people around it. A strong co-op knows its stronger together, with other community partners, other co-ops, and other vantage points (keys to a healthy, deliberative and democratic culture).
  5. start small and build up through an iterative process. Co-ops recognize the importance of process, relying on consultation, dialogue, and vibrant debate in order to develop.
  6. accept that the design of a successful co-op is never really finished. Communities change, uses shift, and places need constant attention in order to stay useful, relevant, and attractive to the people who use them.
  7. are accessible and inclusive. Form supports function, so creating a “cutting edge” design is secondary to ensuring that the co-op will actually serve the people who use it. People who do use the co-op feel a sense of ownership, which leads to member engagement and vibrant democratic businesses.
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Is Your Co-op Place-Centred?