Public spaces are vital to cities. They define a city’s personality and are critical to healthy communities. Public spaces provide opportunities to meet, recreate, protest. They are places where people of all ages, cultures, and demographics can play, meet and interact. To achieve these outcomes it is critical that public spaces be maintained, managed and preserved. In the western world where populations are increasing it is also important that new public spaces be delivered. However achieving these outcomes is becoming increasingly difficult due to increasing expectations and costs of delivering community services and maintaining public spaces by all levels of government. ie in Australia by 2050 the income tax pool will only meet the health budget needs.

As community’s ability to pay for the increased need for community services is declining, governments need to identify opportunities to save money and increase taxes. This will impact the ability of governments to maintain and deliver high quality parks and public spaces.

There are numerous public parks that have been shown no love by all levels of government due to the lack of maintenance budgets. As a result, these parks have not attracted people, leading to anti-social behaviour, drug dealing and violence. The community do not feel safe or welcome. This was well documented at Bryant Park prior to the revitalisation of the 1990s. Governments at all levels are now looking at alternative models and sources of funding to maintain and deliver public spaces that enhance the community. These include requiring developers to deliver and manage private owned publicly accessible places such as in NYC, and leasing spaces and parks to private companies and organisations under management agreements.

An alternative solution – Well Executed and Managed Privately Owned Public Space

Community and public space outcomes are often better achieved through privately owned publicly accessible public spaces. When developers are required to deliver private public lands, or they choose to do so as was the case with Dick Dusseldorp’s Lend Lease with Australia Square in the 1960s, better economic and community outcomes are often achieved. The reasons for this include:

  • Better Maintained Public Space – Great private space is a key trip generator or amenity for the local community. Private developers tend to maintain and curate tenancies adjoining these lands to much higher standard due to the commercial imperative to engage and attract people. Increased visitation equals increased sales or demand and higher property values and taxes.
  • Funding of Maintenance – For councils, maintenance is an annoying cost, to be reduced at any opportunity, regardless of effect of what it provides the community. With private spaces, the increased commercial opportunities from increased visitation and demand helps fund the maintenance of the public space
  • Increased Revenues – Well maintained and managed parks will tend to drive demand and rents for a property. This can assist governments revenues through improved land taxes, rates and stamp duty.
  • Lack of Govt Expertise – Typically councils do not have the expertise to manage parks that deliver great experiences. The right curation of appropriate tenancies alongside spaces for public enjoyment is usually the answer to giving people what they actually want. Government tend to have no skill, ability, or desire to give real consideration to these needs.
  • Socially & Economically Aligned – It is by attracting and bringing people into a space which makes it a destination and therefore commercially valuable. Hence social and economic outcomes tend to be aligned.
  • Basic Public Spaces – Councils typically want to make their jobs less complicated and cheaper. When it comes to public spaces, they’re happy to build it, then only want to empty the bins or mow the lawns. Hence they rarely want to invest in higher quality public spaces that have higher maintenance costs

The Arguments Against Privately Owned Public Space

While POPS can provide valuable public amenities, such as parks, plazas, and seating areas, some critics have raised concerns about their management and accessibility.

One way to address these concerns is through the implementation of a Public Accessible Management Plan (PAMP) with the council. A PAMP can help ensure that the space is managed and operated like a true public space, with clear guidelines for access, maintenance, programming, and public use.

Some common and at times valid arguments raised by critics of POPS include:

  • The public do not have unfettered access. This is addressed through a management and design solution.
  • The Inability for people to protest or freely take photos. This comes down to a design and management solution. This can be addressed in a PAMP between the property owner and local council or authority.
  • Visitors are embarrassed if security guards ask people to change their behaviour. This is addressed through a management solution and PAMP that outlines acceptable and unacceptable behaviour like any public park.
  • People tend to inhibit their behaviour when the lines between private and public land is blurred. This can be a positive and a negative. If it inhibits anti social behaviour of one group dominating use of the space it leads to a better outcome making other groups feel more welcome. Once people establish an affiliation with a place this will fail to be an issue.
  • That privately owned spaces inhibit spontaneity, activity, that evolves in publicly owned and managed park. Poorly managed and maintained parks can lead to declining usage, declining passive surveillance resulting in more antisocial behaviour and declining safety that also contribute to this negative outcome above.
  • The spaces become too commercialised and commercial activities can override public access. This is addressed through a management and PAMP solution. The PAMP would outline permissible events with recognition that the commercial events contribute to the maintaining of a great public space for all except for a few days of the year for commercial events.
  • That the privately owned parks are built in more affluent areas hence lower socio demographic groups do not benefit from the spaces. One again this comes down to a PAMP to ensure there are a range of events that consider the different socio-groups of society.

Great privately owned public spaces can be trip generators and increase community amenity. When these spaces are combined with regulars event and programs, they can further increase visitation and create economic opportunities.

By attracting people to a space, it creates a demand for the “place experience”, which can lead to increased demand for people to live and work in the area. This, in turn, can lead to increased property values and subsequently government revenues via improved property taxes, rates, and stamp duties. This highlights how social and economic outcomes can be aligned.

Examples of Great Privately Owned Public Spaces

There are many examples of successful privatelty owned public spaces that have generated social and economic benefits. Some examples of sucesful privately owned or privately managed spaces include:

Granary Square

Granary Square in Kings Cross, London is a great example of a successful public space that has generated social and economic benefits. The square is located in the heart of the Kings Cross redevelopment area, which has undergone significant transformation in recent years.

Granary Square is a large public space that features a stunning water feature and seating areas, as well as space for events and performances. The square has become a popular destination for both tourists and locals, and has contributed to increased foot traffic and economic development in the surrounding area.

One of the key features of Granary Square is its regular program of events and activities. The square hosts a wide range of events throughout the year, including concerts, art exhibitions, and food festivals. This has helped to attract visitors to the area and create a vibrant and active public space.

In addition to its social benefits, Granary Square has also generated economic benefits for the surrounding area. The square is located in the heart of the Kings Cross redevelopment area, which has undergone significant transformation in recent years. This has led to increased property values and economic development in the surrounding area, with new shops, restaurants, and businesses opening up to cater to the increased foot traffic.

Overall, Granary Square is a great example of how public spaces can generate both social and economic benefits. By creating attractive and well-designed public spaces with regular event and program calendars, cities can increase visitation and create economic opportunities that benefit both residents and visitors.

Klyde Warren Park Dallas

Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, Texas is a great example of a successful privately managed public space that has generated social and economic benefits. The park is located in the heart of downtown Dallas, and was built over a section of the Woodall Rodgers Freeway.

Klyde Warren Park delivered in 2012 is a large public space built over a freeway that features a wide range of amenities, including a performance pavilion, a children’s park, a dog park, and several restaurants and food trucks. The park has become a popular destination for both tourists and locals, and has contributed to increased foot traffic and economic development in the surrounding area. The connecting two parts of the city that were previously divided by a 6 lane freeway has been critical to this.

One of the key features of Klyde Warren Park is its regular program of events and activities. The park hosts a wide range of events throughout the year, including concerts, fitness classes, and food festivals. This has helped to attract visitors to the area and create a vibrant and active public space.

In addition to its social benefits, Klyde Warren Park has also generated economic benefits for the surrounding area. Property. Since the park opened in 2012, property values in the surrounding area have increased significantly (by 2016 some property prices had increased between 30-64%), with new shops, restaurants, and businesses opening up to cater to the increased foot traffic and reduction in crime and anti social behaviour. The park has also created new job opportunities in the area.

Overall, Klyde Warren Park is a great example of how public spaces can generate both social and economic benefits. By creating attractive and well-designed public spaces with regular event and program calendars, cities can increase visitation and create economic opportunities that benefit both residents and visitors.