2013 - April

IS THE PUBLIC INVITED?
DESIGN, MANAGEMENT AND USE OF PRIVATELY OWNED PUBLIC SPACES IN NEW YORK CITY

By Te-Sheng Huang

Researchers in urban planning, urban design, landscape architecture and sociology often criticize the increasing privatization of public space in the US for limiting the diversity of uses and users. Privately owned public spaces in New York City have received this critique. However, careful empirical research, with onsite observations of specific spaces and interviews with building managers, architects and city officials, is still largely lacking. Nor have researchers systematically investigated the full range of design features and management regulations and practices that do, or do not, serve to exclude certain kinds of activities and occupants. This study did precisely that as well as examining the influence that city agencies have, or have not, exerted over the original design, redesign and management practices.

In this research 24 fully enclosed, privately owned public spaces in Manhattan were studied. Preliminary field observations indicated that these 24 spaces vary significantly in their inclusiveness when the presence of homeless was used as an indicator of the latter. Subsequently information was collected through onsite observations, interviews with building managers, architects who were involved in the redesign of the spaces, and city officials in the Department of City Planning and archival sources (reports of City Planning Commission (CPC) and newspaper articles).

The findings indicate that design and management influence the number and diversity of activities and occupants of the 24 indoor privately owned public spaces. Certain design features enhance the quality of the spaces and likely make the spaces inviting. Compared to design features, management practices seem to play a more critical role in determining the number and diversity of activities and occupants. The attitudes of building managers toward certain uses and how they perceive their bonus space compared to traditional public spaces such as park influence how they enforce the rules of conduct posted in the spaces. Consequently, some spaces possessing better environmental quality may be less inclusive than those whose managers are more tolerant of a diversity of uses. Findings indicate that a particular kind of interior, privately owned public space – the cross-block atrium – is a good location for people to meet to pursue common interests, suggesting that this kind constitutes a new type of public space approximating a community center.

 

 


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