The Negotiated Plaza: Design and Development of Corporate Open Space in Downtown Los Angeles and San Francisco

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris & Tridib Banerjee

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Loukaitou-Sideris, A. & Banerjee, T. (1). The Negotiated Plaza: Design and Development of Corporate Open Space in Downtown Los Angeles and San Francisco. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 13(1), 1–12.

The development of downtown public space has been increasingly defined by agreements negotiated between the public and private sectors. In the last decades the majority of downtown public space has occurred in the form of urban plazas, built as integral parts of privately owned office and retail complexes. In this paper we document the private production of public open space in the downtown areas of Los Angeles and San Francisco - two cities that have used distinctively different policy approaches in forming public-private partnerships. We examine how the process of public open space creation is affected by the culture of planning and development, and discuss similarities and differences in the imagery and form of plazas in the two cities. It is found that urban plazas are the reflection of a market-driven urbanism. As such they are quite homoge- neous in their form despite differences in the planning style and development process encountered in the two California cities.

Main finding
The case studies reveal that urban plazas are a reflection of a market-driven urbanism with consensus between the public and private sectors on what constitutes the ideal plaza - an inward-oriented, landscaped open space with adequate seating, food, areas of sun and shade; built with elegant materials; for the use of the white-collar office worker. But the case studies also find that these public open spaces are not democratic or socially equitable and are designed/furnished to appeal to specific user groups and exclude others. These public spaces differ in assertion of publicness, degree of corporate territoriality, variety of space types, and integrated organization, distibution and connectedness of public open space to the urban fabric.

Description of method used in the article
The study evaluated similarities and differences of the process and the outcomes based on findings from a study of the eight plazas - four in Los Angeles and four in San Francisco. Analysis included examination of design guidelines, development agreements, and planning policies, extensive interviews with 32 public and private sector sources (city planners, architects, developers, building managers, etc.), and archival research on the documents made available by the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles and San Francisco Department of City Planning.

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Case Study Interviews
Urban Planning
Physical types
Geographic locations