New research report: Public Space Making – Searching for Best Practice from Planning to Management

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In this report a global survey of public space development practices is presented, a summary of interviews with city planners, real estate economists, developers, property owners, researchers, and place makers, in New York, Tokyo, London, Paris, San Francisco and Stockholm. A special thanks to Ryan Jacobson, Ethan Kent and Mike Lydon in New York, Shingo Sekiya in Tokyo, and Troy Haynes in London for guidance and support. The survey was made possible by Leif Blomkvist Forskningsstiftelse in collaboration with UN Habitat´s Public Space Unit and the Finance Branch. Author of the study is Alexander Ståhle, Phd in urban design at the KTH School of Architecture and CEO of the urban research and design studio Spacescape in Stockholm, Sweden.

The study has identified a variety of types to plan, design, build, manage and finance public spaces. The systems to balance the public and the private sector works differently in different cities and national leg¬islations, although there seems to be some principles of privately financing public spaces that work better than others.

Planning for public spaces on public land is quite straightforward and seem to work very well when the public sector holds a lot of land ownership and has a good tax revenue stream (Stockholm, Singapore). High levels of planning and design skills are crucial to make places work. Planning for public spaces in areas with mixed ownership is more complex. Com¬binations of land transfer and development impact fees seem to work well in cities with high levels of planning expertise and strong regulation schemes (Barcelona, Tokyo). So called “Development Based Land Value Capture” that is based on sales of land or development rights and not on fees or taxes is maybe preferable since it relates directly to urban design, it can generate a direct revenue from land value increase from public spaces in short and long term, and it establishes a clear link between created and cap¬tured value.25 Planning for public spaces on private land (POPS) with density bonuses and zoning incentives is a challenge but experience show that it can work well in high density places if planning authorities strongly regulate the design quality of public spaces and organize management in private-public partnerships (New York, San Francisco).

Public spaces created and managed by the public sec¬tor can work well if the city has a stable tax revenue, otherwise private funding is needed to uphold public spaces. The success of privately financed public space management depends on contracts between the public and the private sector. The private sector must be an organization that gathers many actors in an area or around a place. Conservancies and alike associations, gathering all types of actors (businesses, civic, individual) seem to be more resilient than simple business improvement districts (BIDs) that just gather property or business owners. Although property owners are the most important economic actors in the long term. The public-private public space partnership programs run in New York, San Francisco, Chicago and LA have created many new urban public spaces in these cities and promisingly shows that city governments can introduce systems of collaborations with the private sector that benefit and engage all citizens, creating social as well as economic values. For a public-private partnership to work the public sector must define rules, regulations and guidelines stated in contracts that also regulates funding from both sides. Public authorities are always finally responsible for the success of public space.

Download full report here!