The privatization of public space: Modeling and measuring publicness

Németh, J. & Schmidt, S.

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Németh, J., & Schmidt, S. (2011). The privatization of public space: modeling and measuring publicness. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 38(1), 5–23.

Control , New York City , Privately Owned Public Space , Publicness

Privately owned public spaces are frequently criticized for diminishing the publicness of public space by restricting social interaction, constraining individual liberties, and excluding undesirable populations. This study empirically determines whether, as is commonly believed, privately owned public spaces are more controlled than publicly owned spaces. To frame our empirical work, we propose a conceptual model that identifies publicness as the interaction between the ownership, management, and uses/users of a space. We then examine the management dimension using an observation-based index to assess spatial management paradigms in publicly and privately owned spaces. We find that the use of the private sector to provide publicly accessible space leads to increased control over use, behavior, and access. Furthermore, while both publicly and privately owned public spaces tend equally to encourage public use and access, managers of privately owned spaces tend to employ more features that control behavior within those spaces. More specifically, spatial control in privately owned spaces is normally achieved through the use of surveillance and policing techniques as well as design measures that ‘code’ spaces as private. Important findings are presented for planners, policy makers, and others concerned with the future of publicly accessible spaces.

Main finding
The authors find an increase in control over use, behavior, and access in public spaces provided by the private sector - privately-owned public spaces (POPs). Ownership and management dimensions assess the potential for publicness but use and perception offer actual publicness. Increases in programming and personal safety in POPs threaten the ability to create welcoming and inclusive city retreats. Regarding features encouraging public space use, the authors found no statistically significant difference between POPs and publicly owned spaces. The authors determined that privately owned spaces did score significantly higher regarding features that discourage or control use than in publicly owned spaces. Policy recommendations for POPs included: 1) limiting corporate signage and ads for more uniform management standards, 2) inspections by a team of public advocates, 3) education for managers about laws regarding accessibility, and 4) reexamining FAR bonuses since spaces that take advantage of it are more controlled.

Description of method used in the article
Site visits and interviews with users and managers of space were conducted. The authors developed an index to measure presence and intensity of management techniques by active and passive controls in four categories: laws and rules, surveillance and policing, design and image-building, and access restriction. The index consists of 20 indicators ; 10 of which encourage use and 10 that discourage use. The authors propose a new conceptual model of publicness (drawn from others) along dimensions of: ownership, management and uses/users, but it's incomplete and difficult to operationalize uses and users.

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