`Machizukuri` is translated by most commentators as `place or city making` and mainly refers to the direct participation of citizens into urban planning and construction. The present paper discusses the concept and evolution of machizukuri from a social movement to `soft-infrastructure` at city level, focused on serving community needs in post-disaster settings. The 1995 Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in Kobe is chosen as the main case study, in order to review the role and process of machizukuri in disaster management in the context of urban renewal. This is followed by a discussion on the possibility of replicating this model in other contexts and the challenges which machizukuri and similar bottom-up groups are faced with in ensuring their sustainability. The paper argues that the culture and personal engagement of the citizens, and the commitment of national and local governments to cooperate with civil society groups, are essential in this process. Finally, the study suggests that the utilization of this concept has proved that there are undeniable benefits in engaging civil society in decision-making processes and initiatives, with the ultimate aim to create communities capable of overcoming the catastrophic consequences of disasters.