Reimagine Projects Around Ireland

Reimagine Projects Around Ireland

Pocket Guide 4

Trauma Informed Placemaking

Dr Cara Courage and Dr Anita McKeown

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Place has been seen as ranging from being contested (where people and politics clash) or as convivial (sites of serendipitous meeting and celebration, for example), and placemaking often carries an overtly positive tone. Yet the potential of place to have been the site of a traumatic experience or place-based practice is not widely acknowledged.

    As placemakers, it is critical to understand that a trauma response can be triggered by the most mundane and seemingly harmless situation or action, as well as being located in our own practices and in the overtly historical or contemporary structures and narratives of place. 

    Extrapolating across from the Six Principles of a Trauma Informed Approach (SAMSHA) – which itself can be adopted by placemakers – we propose a tandem six steps we need to consider in a trauma informed placemaking approach.

    Step 1

    Develop an awareness of trauma and trauma in place

    – in tandem with creating safe spaces 

    Traumatic stress-related disorders comprise a specific constellation of symptoms and criteria, including emotional, physical, cognitive, behavioural, social, and developmental reactions. Trauma may also lead people to find they are unable to stop thinking about what happened, a high level of arousal – or feeling alert or ‘on guard’ – which causes strong sensory reactions in the individual. 

    It is this situated and embodied traumatic experience of place, and at the community-of-place level, that is the foundation of trauma informed placemaking; and it is the same experience, as community voice, that has to be included in subsequent healing processes. 

    – in tandem with building trustworthiness/transparency 

    Such a trauma-based relation has historical precedent, keenly through colonialism, war and natural disaster, and reaches into the future through continuing climate and ecological emergency and further pandemics, for example. 

    Think too of the traumatic experience of gentrification and social cleansing; of feelings of menace and threat experienced by many in the public realm; and of the rupture in the people-place relation during the COVID-19 pandemic and the sites of Black Lives Matter protests and police brutality. 

    Engaging with any community we may have the privilege to work with requires meaningfully inclusive practices and an awareness of the basic principles of a trauma informed approach. 

    Step 2

    Understanding trauma in place as placemakers

    Step 3

    Ask ourselves what we can do as placemakers

    – in tandem with peer support 

    We have a responsibility as placemakers to inform and educate ourselves to the context of the places we work in and the impacts of trauma on the communities of place we work with. 

    We need to think too of the trauma we have and may cause as placemakers though our practices and processes. We need to understand the political implications of our work and strive to keep informed of new conversations and developments in the field.

    We need to be asking ourselves big questions of our practice – amongst others, how do we conduct ourselves with those we work with, and how do we challenge trauma-causing processes? – and turn to and learn from each other as a community of praxis – learning through doing. 

    – in tandem with strive for collaboration and mutuality

    A growing global network of place-based practitioners, researchers and thought-leaders are gathering around trauma informed placemaking, sharing the belief in the need for placemaking to address trauma as prerequisite in our approach to working in place. 

    Taking a lead from Community of Practice theory, approaching the project as a Community of Praxis not only engenders the forming of a knowledge exchange community around the notion of trauma informed placemaking, but also a step-change in the practice of placemaking through the practical application of theory and learning from experience. The Community of Praxis is growing. Why not get involved? Reach out, ask questions, learn with and from the community, share your own knowledge.

    Step 4

    Consider a community of praxis

    Step 5

    Become part of the community

    – in tandem with contribute to practices of empowerment, voice and choice

    Consider, inform yourself and action the Four R’s in your practice: 

    Realisation: you and your colleagues have a basic realisation about trauma and understand how trauma can affect people in place at an individual, group and community level. 

    Recognise: you and your colleagues are able to recognise trauma signs across identity intersections of age, race, gender, dis/ability, etc., and as place/context specific. 

    Respond: you and your colleagues are able to respond through your trauma informed approach. 

    Resist: you and your colleagues resist re-traumatisation of people in place through intentional practice. 

    – in tandem with develop an awareness of cultural, historical and gender issues

    With a commitment to trauma awareness / trauma informed practices comes a further commitment to place healing, through place-based community responses and interventions to continue necessary activities, regulate emotions, sustain self-esteem, and maintain and enjoy interpersonal and place-orientated relations.

    Using existing tried and tested methods and toolkits are safe ways for ourselves and others to start. There are many examples of best practice from practitioners who learned their craft through personal experience and learning from and with communities in place. 

    Step 6

    Our call to action

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