Architects are by tradition used to create places others rather than them, merely consulting their clients when needed. Place attachment theory however shows that involvement influences the experience of place in a positive way. By involving future users in the entire creation process a stronger “sense of place” can arise. Using geographer E. Relph’s concepts of outsideness and insideness as a starting point this article explores how place attachment can be stimulated when developing public space. It further reviews involvement-based work in practice by Atelier d'architecture autogérée (AAA) and the Rebar group. Still, the literature review leaves an essential question unanswered; In what ways more precisely does involvement-based placemaking create a “sense of place”?

The main object of study is a so called “urban laboratory”; an urban development project involving citizens in iterative design loops. The research methods include a multiple case study in San Francisco on the “Pavement to Parks” project and action research in a residential area in Malmö. Through semi-structured interviews with initiators and participants the study explores which parts of the placemaking process that are perceived as particularly decisive by the people involved.

Being able to physically adjust a place in order to create “one’s own nook” appears to be significant for place attachment to grow. Involving future users means leaving some parameters open or undefined. From an urban planning point of view, when balancing between which parameters to predefine, it seems that a predefined concept facilitates lasting involvement. A that “finds its place” in the city more easily engages enthusiasts to maintain it, than a looking for the right concept to fill it. The predefined place looking for the right concept, however, facilitates stepwise development and design decisions to be informed by earlier phases.

Theory wise the article contributes to bridge the gap between architecture and the social sciences in terms of the understanding of place. In practice the results are useful for developing more inclusive and emancipatory working methods when creating public spaces. The work addresses architects and urban planners as well as other related professions.