Global Cities, Inequality, and the Public Realm
In the United States, urban public realm innovations are often both enabled by and contribute to rising land values in well-off areas. Less affluent areas suffer not only from their inability to sponsor such improvements with private wealth, but also from their isolation from centers of power. U.S. cities often rely on quasi-privatized models, like park conservancies and Business Improvement Districts, to finance the development and maintenance of new parks and streetscapes, institutionalizing a paradigm under which high-quality public spaces are the preserve of those most able to pay. The municipal governments of the European cities the author visited all formalize a commitment to a more egalitarian vision of the public realm by creating public sector planning and delivery entities tasked with the articulation and implementation of that vision, and through substantial and ongoing public investment in transit, parks, and streetscapes. The author learned four key lessons from her tour: 1) Leadership matters; 2) Building and maintaining the public realm is a public responsibility; 3) Align planning and delivery entities with intent, and match resources to need; and 4) Building an equitable public realm takes more than hardware.