Making magic among the mundane: how to seek stories as placemaking inspiration

How do you make magic in a place where others only see mundane? 
How do you find the fantastic among a place that is long forgotten?

Placemakers often face these challenges — working in the least desirable spots in a city — the rundown, the disused or just plain dull. We often write them off, but is anywhere more fruitful than the city’s fringes to stretch the imagination? The suburbs are home to subcultures and unexpected passions that provide great starting points for narrative placemaking.

It takes a special point of view to see diamonds in the rough, and help elevate a place and a community to their full potential, while keeping the grain of good stuff we find on the ground. So how do we train our eye to view the world this way and seek inspiration for a place’s new story?

Vincent Lacovara

Croydon, on London’s edges, is a good place to start. Vincent Lacovara — the Council’s placemaking team leader — has a life long love affair with the borough, long maligned by many as a ‘concrete jungle’ for its plethora of brutal blocks and towers.

“Believing that everything is interesting, that nothing is boring has been there through the different things I’ve done,” says Vincent. It’s a viewpoint characterised by humility and an openness to involve others in shaping the story of a place — a hop, skip and jump towards the huge leap of imagination that masterplanning and urban design requires.

West Croydon Bus Station

Through his teams ‘fix and flex’ attitude to shaping the place, they’re encouraging people to pour in those passions as they devolve projects for others to deliver a dream. Ruskin Square is a case in point, where the artists and architects at Muf worked with developers Stanhope to bring back the influence of artist John Ruskin as inspiration (the artist who once had a connection to Croydon). And with architects Assemble, his team has prototyped an improved public Square at New Addington.

Anthony Gerace

So how does an artist’s perspective allow us to find stories others ignore? 
‘I’ve trained myself to see things that other people aren’t aware of. You start to see a secret writing and a different language,’ says photographer and collage artist Anthony Gerace. Anthony has found a language for landscapes that the world long forgot, training his eye among Toronto’s back alleyways to seek treasure among the trash.

Piecing a place together can be a most addictive form of storytelling — a non-linear approach that offers clues to the lives of others encourages discovery. In all but the most planned of places, architecture is a torn or displaced act, and yet the human brain strives to create connections — to create a narrative out of nothing. In the same way, Anthony’s collages thrill in removing vital pieces and prompt our viewer’s brains to fill in the gaps. Therein lies the delight in a story that we ourselves make up.

Anthony Gerace’s collage

What if we designed places in the same way? Leaving empty space as a prompt to reimagine a place around, a way to make it ours. As Anthony says, ‘you can never really understand a place. That’s what make them so amazing.’’

To read the full interviews with Vincent and Anthony visit