Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Co-Production of Public Space: Policy Translations from New York City to the Netherlands

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Co-Production of Public Space: Policy Translations from New York City to the Netherlands

Article excerpt

Public space undoubtedly adds extra value to the city. Streets, squares and parks are important structuring elements of the urban landscape. They are places for unexpected encounters and public discourse as well as for relaxation and passage (Madanipour et al., 2014). Public spaces have played a fundamental role in the way civil society has functioned throughout history (Orum and Neal, 2010), as they are the exchange platform of goods, knowledge, culture and entertainment. Research has shown that real estate prices (and thus tax income) can increase by five to thirty per cent if the properties are located within a range of 500 metres of a green public space (Visser and Van Dam, 2006). Being exposed to green public space has also shown to be beneficial to people's health: people recover from illness more quickly, have lower blood pressure and less muscle tension in green environments (De Vries et al., 2003). Lastly, parks and other green spaces can increase the sustainability of cities by improving air quality, decreasing traffic noise and combating the effects of urban heating.

Despite this wide range of benefits and beneficiaries, public space is still commonly considered as a traditional public good. Consequently, local governments are generally viewed as the 'rightful supplier of urban open space', but increasingly lack budgets, incentive or capacity 'to maintain adequate investment in this shared space' (Webster, 2007, 84, 95). In addition, while the provision of 'plan-related' public space in greenfield projects is often paid for from the plan's returns of property development as part of the public infrastructure, many urban transformation and in-fill projects do not provide sufficient returns to cover these costs (Van der Krabben and Needham, 2008; Van der Krabben and Jacobs, 2013).

A solution to preserve the quality of public space despite current budgetary cuts could be to more actively involve other private beneficiaries (Lengkeek, 2007; Berding et al., 2010), for example by stimulating self-management of public space by local residents or inducing housing associations to invest in the public spaces surrounding their property. We have labelled this involvement as co-production (see also Klemme et al., 2013) to refer to the sharing of costs, rights and responsibilities of public space amongst a wide range of stakeholders, ranging from the market (i.e. marketsteered planning) to civil society and individual citizens (i.e. self-regulated planning). Co-production is a broad term that corresponds to comparable terms such as coor self-management/-governance. Although these terms technically mean different things (for an overview, see Brandsen and Pestoff, 2006), we feel they all fall under the umbrella of 'collaborative planning' (Healey, 1997). Within this kind of planning, the responsibility for the provision of public goods is not solely in the hands of the public sector, but is shared with the market and/or civil society. As such, it differs from privatisation, which implies completely handing over responsibility for the development and management of public space to the market (Stolk, 2013).

Examples of this so-called 'co-production' of public space are manifold in liberal welfare states such as the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK), for example the creation of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) in which local businesses impose a voluntary tax on themselves and spend it on public space (Symes and Steel, 2003; Ward, 2006). In contrast, they are still relatively rare in the Netherlands (Van Melik, 2008; Langstraat and Van Melik, 2013), most probably due to the long-time dominance of public sector-led land and property development in Dutch cities, leading to a rather passive attitude by the private sector or property owners to take initiative. More recently, a change in the attitude towards planning and the role of the public sector seems to have taken place in the Netherlands. This can partially be explained by the fact that municipalities have become more reluctant to take an active role in land and property development due to huge financial losses on their investments (Buitelaar, 2010; Van der Krabben and Jacobs, 2013). …

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