Public Life in NYC’s Plazas

Seven NYC plazas were analyzed to identify new methods and metrics to study the connections and impacts of public life and public space to urban justice, with collaborator J. Max Bond Center (JMBC).

In the past seven years, the NYC Department of Transportation partnered with community organizations across the city to create over 70 new public plazas in neighborhoods lacking open space. Gehl and JMBC set out to develop a method to measure and evaluate if public life and public space design can promote more equitable access to social, cultural, and economic opportunities- who feels invited to new public spaces, who doesn’t, and how are the plazas used?

The Manhattan plazas had more economic diversity than the plazas in outer-borough neighborhoods

The Manhattan plazas had more economic diversity than the plazas in outer-borough neighborhoods

Can the design of public space have a positive impact on public life and urban justice?

This report reflects the findings from an 18 month investigation that measured and evaluated how public space contributes to quality public life and greater social justice.

Seven recently implemented plazas in New York City’s Public Plaza Program were evaluated. The Plaza Program is a unique initiative that has leveraged community support to create 70 plazas across New York City. The economic benefits of the program are documented, but little is known about how these places perform for people and support communities. New study methods were used to evaluate if public life and public space design can promote more equitable access to social, cultural, and economic opportunities – and to identify who feels invited to these new public spaces, who doesn’t, and how they are used?

NYCPlazas_Illustration-02

Respondents of outer-borough plazas reported a stronger sense of ownership. This comes despite only 3% of all surveyed saying they participated in the plaza planning process. On average these plazas also have more regular and frequent visitors.

NYCPlazas_Illustration_03

Lower income groups are over-represented at the plazas compared to the surrounding neighborhood demographics.

Findings reveal how plazas support social interaction, especially low-income earners, local neighbor-hood events, programs and culture. The people using them are socio-economically diverse – typically more so than surrounding neighborhoods.

The plaza program is an innovative city initiative, but there is room to improve, and recommendations to the City and plaza management organizations outline ways plaza implementation, funding, design, and programming might evolve to achieve even greater improvements to public life and urban justice. There is potential for other cities to integrate tactics like this into design and planning projects and support greater equity in their cities.

NYCPlazas_Illustration-01

Residential plazas with more local and frequent users correlated with higher social interactions and recognition. On average, 70% of those surveyed recognize or know more people since the plaza opened. Additionally, those making less than $50,000 were more likely to make new connections.

NYCPlazas_img4

Streets and spaces have an opportunity to be the great equalizer – inviting for difference amongst diverse neighborhoods