Upending Trickle-Down Techniques for Creating Public Space

Michael Kimmelman looks at the wave of 'cheap, quick, temporary and D.I.Y.-style approaches' that are introducing a more successful means of creating public space than traditional trickle-down techniques.

"Cities need public spaces like plazas," says Kimmelman. "For years they have mostly been planned from the top down. In New York, zoning laws have carved many of these spaces from commercial developments, which have been given bonuses to include them. Mayor Bloomberg is pushing a new proposal to rezone east Midtown, near Grand Central, that is a variation on this same old trickle-down theme."

"But fresh thinking has focused on cheap, quick, temporary and D.I.Y.-style approaches to creating public space — among these, curbside 'parklets' in San Francisco and a communal farm on what had been a derelict parcel in the middle of Phoenix," he explains. "And guess what? A beer garden made out of freight containers on an empty plot turns out to be a lot more popular and better for a city than a sad corporate atrium with a few cafe tables and a long list of don’ts on the wall."

"As more and more educated Americans, especially younger ones, are looking to move downtown, seeking alternatives to suburbs and cars, they’re reframing the demand for public space," Kimmelman continues. "They want elbow room and creative sites, cooked up by the community or, like [New York City's] plaza program, developed from a democratic mix of top-down and bottom-up governance."

Full Story: A Streetcorner Serenade for the Public Plaza

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