The Privatization of Downtown Public Space: The Emerging Grade-Separated City in North America

Jack Byers

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Byers, J. (1). The Privatization of Downtown Public Space: The Emerging Grade-Separated City in North America. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 17(3), 189–205.

In recent years, public space in many North American cities has been physically and socially layered through the construction of gradeseparated pedestrian systems. Case studies of downtown Houston, Minneapolis, and Toronto investigate the emerging geography of the grade-separated city by examining: how the growth of skyway and tunnel systems reconfigures the proximity of downtown activities to one another; how quasi-public space within these systems is designed and controlled by the private sector; and the way that downtown spaces-both on the street and within these systems-are used by the general public. A common set of patterns reveals the challenges to social diversity in the heart of the North American city.

Main finding
This article is focused on three particular areas of analysis: (1) the intergation and segregation of downtown activites - the grade separated system reinforces distinction in the social environment by establishing separate spheres of pedestrian circulation and sets of activities; (2) the control and design of quasi-public space - the grade separated systems are intrinsically tied to local property markets and business pursuits resulting in the concious organization of the quasi-public spaces within to control use; and (3) the public use of downtown spaces - the growth of grade separated systems has not drained all pedestrian traffic from downtown streets and sidewalks undermining the harsh weather explanation for their construction.

Description of method used in the article
This research conducted comparative examination of of grade separated construction (skyway and tunnel) in Houston, Minneapolis, and Toronto based on systematic field research - examination of archival records, structured interviews with 50 planners, developers, property managers, property owners, architects and academic experts, mapping and compiling variations in the physical environment and systematic pedestrian observations on city streets and sidewalks and inside grade separated systems at various times of the day and night and different days of the week.

Of practical use

Organising categories

Other or N/A
Urban Design
Physical types
Sidewalks Streets
Geographic locations