I have just contracted with Rutgers University Press for the publication of What Works: Placemaking in Bryant Park. Revitalizing Cities, Towns and Public Spaces in the Spring of 2019. I am so fortunate to be working with the experienced publishing professionals Peter Mikulas and Micah Kleit on this project.
It is hugely satisfying for me that Professor Patrick Sharkey’s important new book, “Uneasy Peace” concludes something that I have long suspected: in big cities across the country, violence has fallen as a result of the revitalization of public spaces by non-governmental organizations. Professor Sharkey, the Chair of the Sociology Department at NYU, argues that it has not been aggressive policing alone that produced the urban revolution of 1990’s, but rather the reestablishment of order in public spaces made a major contribution to the perception of public safety downtown.
My sense has long been that our work in the revitalization of Bryant Park (with its sister BIDs, Grand Central Partnership and 34th Street Partnership), along with that of the Central Park Conservancy in Central Park, was at the forefront of changing perceptions about urban public space. What the implementation of the “Broken Windows” philosophy as articulated by George Kelling and William Bratton is really about is high quality maintenance and programming in public space (fixing the broken windows) along with the presence of private, unarmed security personnel, rather than the kind of aggressive policing that produced the deeply intrusive and out of proportion “stop and frisk” policy that came to an end with the return of Bratton as police commissioner under Mayor Bill De Blasio. In my view, that kind of aggressive police engagement with the community is both dysfunctional and a distortion of what “broken windows” is really about. Continue reading →
1894 Bryant Park before the physical changes. Looking north.
A serious challenge facing public space managers is people living in and engaging in antisocial behavior in public spaces. This seems to be a particular issue for cities on the west coast, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Eugene, Oregon. The situation is raising a raft of crosscutting concerns about individual rights, the causes of economic disadvantage in our country today, the sensitivities of upper-middle class urbanites and our society’s stubborn unwillingness to assist those suffering from serious mental health issues, including substance abuse. Conflicting interests and ideologies play out in policy discussions about how public spaces are governed and managed.
Successful restoration of social control to public spaces is not about enforcement. The apparent decline in the quality of the public space experience in the second half of the 20th century was driven almost entirely by how safe people felt they were on sidewalks and in parks. Many felt that the public realm of shared space was out of social control, and as a result, they feared for their physical safety. Some of this fear may have been exaggerated or even incorrect, driven by race- and class-bound assumptions and stereotypes. But even if the threat was not real, the perception of it kept people from visiting, working, shopping in or investing in public places perceived to be unsafe. Much of the success of improved public spaces over the last two decades has been based on improving those perceptions – making public spaces feel safer by employing “broken-windows” management (discouraging low-level disorder and providing high-quality, detail-oriented maintenance) and placemaking practice. Continue reading →