This season Places is marking a happy milestone: our tenth anniversary as an online journal. A decade ago we made the decision to cease publishing as a print quarterly available via paid subscription and to move online as a non-profit, free-access journal. We hit the PUBLISH button in our CMS for the first time in October 2009, and since then we’ve collaborated with more than 450 authors and photographers on 552 articles (and counting) that total (as I write) 2,122,638 words. We’ve published 102 public Reading Lists and 5,352 Places Wire posts. We’ve been awarded half a dozen foundation grants for special article series. We’ve partnered with universities to award prizes for major articles. We’ve launched one book series.
Going digital became an opportunity to identify a valuable new editorial space: public scholarship on architecture, landscape, and urbanism.
It’s been an energetic decade; also a tumultuous one. If producing a print journal is like cultivating a garden — with predictable rhythms, discrete outputs, deep traditions, tidy borders — then putting out an online journal is like joining up with a riotous festival — there’s the continual flow of content, the boisterous chorus of social media, the edgeless ubiquity of the internet, a digital culture in endless flux. That original decision to transform a 25-year-old print journal into a fully digital enterprise thus became an opportunity to rethink every aspect of our publication project, and most of all an opportunity to identify a valuable new editorial space: public scholarship on architecture, landscape, and urbanism. To this end we defined the editorial agenda we’ve pursued ever since: To feature rigorous and accessible longform work by design scholars, writers, and artists who are responding to the profound challenges of our time, from the climate crisis to urban inequality to rapid technological change to the erosion of democracy. To publish that work on an open and independent platform that is free of advertising and free of charge. And to maintain that platform as a dynamic portal to a growing archive and a trusted resource on complex issues.
The second decade of the 21st century has proven to be a ripe moment for our public agenda and digital presence. Serious journalism has been remaking itself as a non-profit sector dedicated to the public interest. The movement for open-access scholarship has been gaining ground as major universities establish repositories to share faculty research. Universities everywhere are exploring new forms of social engagement. Ambitious scholars are seeking to escape the confines of costly paywalls and to exert new influence on political and cultural debate. The National Endowment for the Humanities has started a public scholar grant program, and #publicscholarship is a Twitter hashtag.
All of which has made us more committed than ever to our mission of public scholarship on the built and natural environment — and convinced that we’ve been filling an unmet need. Over the years leading academics in various disciplines have earned powerful reputations as public intellectuals. Nobel-winning economists have put Keynesian theory on the op-ed pages; medical researchers have written bestsellers on neuroscience and mortality; historians have produced influential new narratives of race and society. Yet the environmental design disciplines have been largely missing from the ranks of public scholars; for too long these very public art forms have been curiously absent from the larger public discourse. At least until recently; we’re optimistic this is changing. The steady growth in our site visitors and social followers; the numerous books that have been developed from Places articles; the frequent requests to translate our authors’ works into languages from Spanish and German to Bahasa Indonesia and Serbo-Croatian; the countless citations and shares and recommendations — all underscore the very real demand for rich and substantial writing on the designed environment, in our pages and elsewhere. We’re gratified to be in the vanguard of what is shaping up to be a new era of public debate about the future of cities, buildings, and landscapes.
Since moving online, we’ve been building an innovative model for independent, non-profit scholarly journalism in design.
Our achievements of the past decade are due not only to our singular editorial agenda but also to our unique organizational model. Since moving online, we’ve been building an innovative model for independent, non-profit scholarly journalism in design. Places is funded by an international network of academic partners — 29 faculties of design in North America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa. We leverage their core support with foundation grants, major gifts, and reader donations. This broad-based capacity gives us the strength and freedom to publish work that is deeply researched and reported, independent and idiosyncratic, driven by authorial passion and fortified by editorial commitment.
Places would not exist without the steady engagement of our institutional partners and generous readers; and just as crucially, without the extraordinary work of the many scholars, authors, designers, and artists we’ve been privileged to publish. Our challenge now is to sustain the project of Places, and to continue to make the case, in all our editorial and organizational practices, for the value of public scholarship in design. It’s a challenge we’ll enthusiastically embrace over the next ten years, and beyond.