When the New York City Department of Transportation started to turn streets into plazas in 2008, public opinion varied. Hundreds of New Yorkers demonstrated their enthusiasm by immediately populating what had just recently been the realm of the car while others proclaimed that traffic congestion and loss of parking would cripple surrounding businesses. The Department of Transportation’s 71 plazas are now more figuratively and literally cemented into the landscape of the city, and the benefits of these open spaces — increased foot traffic, activating programs, beautification, pedestrian safety — are well recounted.
Each of these plazas requires a local nonprofit partner to fund and carry out their maintenance and programming, an extension of the kinds of public-private partnerships, including conservancies and “friends” groups, that are increasingly relied on for operational and maintenance funding at parks across the city. The Neighborhood Plaza Partnership (NPP), a program of The Horticultural Society of New York, seeks to support low-capacity organizations that have taken on the role of plaza manager by providing them with services and capacity building. And as NPP Managing Director Laura Hansen explains, the Partnership is leveraging the plazas by using their maintenance as a workforce development tool and documenting the needs of their managers to consider the future of the public-private partnership model that currently supports them. Hansen lays out the motivations, realities, and potential behind plaza management while asking the very important question of how much we should, and can, rely on private support for maintaining our public realm
Can our public spaces benefit by a similar program?