Revisiting the end of public space: Assembling the public in an urban park

Madden, D. J.

Go to article

Madden, D. J. (2010). Revisiting the end of public space: Assembling the public in an urban park. City & Community, 9(2), 187–207.

A case study of the renovation of New York City’s Bryant Park, this article revisits the end of public space thesis. The renovated park signifies not the end of public space but the new ends to which public space is oriented. In Bryant Park, a new logic of urban publicity was assembled and built into the landscape. The social and technical means by which this transformation was achieved are analyzed. New public spaces of this sort promulgate a conception of the public that is decoupled from discourses of democratization, citizenship, and self-development and connected ever more firmly to consumption, commerce, and social surveillance. If such places do not herald the end of public space, they do represent “publicity without democracy.”

Main finding
The author argues that the Bryant Park renovation by the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation is indicative of a new phase in the history of parks as public spaces. The renovation focused on making the park more accessible, drawing park goers into a social surveillance role, and by making interaction in the park more visible to strengthen the public realm. The result of this project is to create a new public of watchers and consumers. The park’s renovation exemplifies the end of public space argument by promoting the control and commodification of public space, but is supplementary to the argument because of the public's participation in promoting accessibility and visibility. Despite being formally public, the author argues it is still tied to dominant forms of power. Therefore, it is not privatization per se, but a transformation of the urban public from the principles of democracy and citizenship to those of consumption and surveillance.

Description of method used in the article
The author gathered data from the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation, City Hall Library, and the New York Municipal Archives. The author also used newspaper reports, published accounts, secondary studies, articles from management and planning journals, and other archival sources to inform their work.

Of some practical use if combined with other research

Organising categories

Archival / Historical
Physical types
Geographic locations