Rethinking Urban Parks: Public Space and Cultural Diversity

Rethinking Urban Parks: Public Space and Cultural Diversity

Rethinking Urban Parks: Public Space and Cultural Diversity

Rethinking Urban Parks: Public Space and Cultural Diversity

Synopsis

A study of five major urban parks, including New York's Prospect Park and Philadelphia's Independence National Historical Park, that offers a blueprint for promoting and maintaining cultural diversity in parks around the world.

Excerpt

William H. Whyte set out to discover why some New York City public spaces were successes, filled with people and activities, while others were empty, cold, and unused. After seven years of filming small parks and plazas in the city, he found that only a few plazas in New York City were attracting daily users and saw this decline as a threat to urban civility. He began to advocate for viable places where people could meet, relax, and mix in the city. His analysis of those spaces that provided a welcoming and lively environment became the basis of his now-famous [rules for small urban spaces.] And these rules were used by the New York City Planning Department to transform the public spaces in the city.

In this new century, we are facing a different kind of threat to public space— not one of disuse, but of patterns of design and management that exclude some people and reduce social and cultural diversity. In some cases this exclusion is the result of a deliberate program to reduce the number of undesirables, and in others, it is a by-product of privatization, commercialization, historic preservation, and specific strategies of design and planning. Nonetheless, these practices can reduce the vitality and vibrancy of the space or reorganize it in such a way that only one kind of person—often a tourist or middle-class visitor—feels welcomed. One of the consequences is that the number of open, urban public spaces is decreasing as more and more places are privatized, gated or fenced, closed for renovation, and/or redesigned to restrict activities. These changes can be observed in Latin America as well as the United States, and they are drastically reducing the number of places that people can meet and participate in public life (Low 2000).

These changes are potentially harmful to other democratic practices that depend on public space and an active public realm for cross-class and multicultural contact. At least in New York after 9/11, very few places retain the cultural and social diversity once experienced in all public spaces—but Washington Square and Union Square still do. Further, an increased defensiveness and desire for security has arisen since the terrorist attack. Concrete barriers, private . . .

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