Pratt Center Research

Sustainable Community Development

Global Cities, Inequality, and the Public Realm

Report  |  December 1, 2013

“Global Cities, Inequality and the Public Realm” – a new report by Joan Byron, Pratt Center’s Director of Policy – is the culmination of Ms. Byron’s Fellowship with the German Marshall Fund of the United States. In light of the seemingly inexorable growth of income inequality in New York and other global cities, this report looks at how three European capitals are using public realm investments to mitigate economic inequality and social exclusion. To degrees that vary based on national and local politics, municipal governments of London, Paris, and Amsterdam 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 report provides an overview of key public realm investments in each of these cities: the legacy of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London; the regeneration of the Parisian region of Plaine Saint-Denis; and the redesign of the Bijlmermeer public housing project in Amsterdam. The report’s recommendations provide policy lessons for New York and other global cities based on the successes of their European counterparts. These include a discussion on leadership, values, and vision; the problematic role of public-private partnerships (PPPs); the importance of entities with the authority, capacity, and resources needed to build and manage an equitable public realm; and the necessity to go beyond the hardware and substantively engage communities and civil society.

The report concludes that, for engagement to help drive real change, government entities must be willing to shape their plans around locally-defined aspirations and priorities. Success is not possible when governments or developers have already formulated not only the problem but its solution, and employ the techniques and vocabulary of participatory planning to legitimize a foreordained outcome, as has often been in case in recent US history.             

Click here to view the full report, available from the German Marshall Fund