What was participatory culture’s role in advancing critical PR ideals through community placemaking for UK City of Culture 2021 (UKCoC) bids? To answer this question, 20 semi-structured interviews were conducted across five UKCoC contender locations, paying particular attention to presentation of professional self. Reported events were theorised using the academic concepts of critical PR and participatory culture. It is argued that two elements to proceedings created conditions for critical PR ideals to be advanced at intervals. The first was a low barrier to inclusion and artistic expression – although this had the opposite effect for some arts people. The second was, due to the low barrier, the possibility for the emergence of autonomous space for participants, facilitated by the organisational, cultural curator, PR role. The low barrier is key to the definition of participatory culture. However, its relevance to critical PR has been un-theorised until now, despite growing interest in the intersection between the disciplines of participatory culture and critical PR. This is the first such work to examine UKCoC using critical PR and participatory culture theories. The community placemaking activities under scrutiny are presented as embodiments, in parts, of critical PR ideals, made possible by participatory culture. In summary, it is demonstrated that the PR role provided the potential for residents to be empowered, and to gain an enhanced love of place or topophilia. This was a bottom-up and anti-neoliberal effect of the top-down and time-limited undertaking of bidding for UKCoC status, highlighting the value of participatory culture principles to critical PR.