1.4 Creating the Urban Public Realm: Who, What, Where, Why, When, and How?

How does the Urban Public Realm get produced? More specifically, how do urban public realm projects get implemented? The focus of this section is on how these questions relate specifically to the creation of new public realm projects in urban areas in America since 2000. As you consider how public places are created and used, always ask yourself “who, what, where, why, when, and how?”


Whose idea was it in the first place – who conceived it? Who promoted the project – from the public and/or private sectors? Who was responsible for implementing the project – the government agency, the private property owner, or some other central actor? Who owned the property before and who owned the new public place once the project was completed? Who designed it and what kind of designer were they – architect, landscape architect, engineer, lighting, or something else? Who paid for it and who raised the funds? Who operates, maintains, programs, and activates the space? Who were the key stakeholders, who are the intended users, who is the project for, and who else benefits from it and how? Who lost something and who gained?


What exactly is the project? How big is it? What is it like in character? What is its primary purpose and function? What else does it accomplish? Is it a street, plaza, or pedestrian mall? Is it an entry plaza for a building or buildings? Is it a park or playground? Is it an event or sports facility? What type of improvements will you be making – new structures of renovations to existing facilities? How did the type of project – the “what” influence the “who” of who conceived of it, and who implemented it? Is it a building, a landscape, a historic preservation project, an urban design, or some other type of infrastructure? Does it mitigate a brownfield, help with stormwater management, or restore habitats for birds and pollinators?


Where is the project located? How is it accessible and how do you get there? What part of the city or region does it serve and is it intended to serve? Why is it in that location? Was the property available? How does the project’s location influence who the users are – and who the promoters of the project are?


Why was the project initiated? What was the need? What was there before – and who was there before? Did something change? Was the old place worn out? Or did need and demand arise for something completely new that had not been there before? Was it a parking lot that became a park, or an old street that was redesigned and rebuilt as a new street? Did new development drive new needs for amenities? What other user needs or trends caused the project? Did the needs and demands of pedestrians, bicyclists, property owners, or other uses and users, influence the need for the project?


Really, why now? What caused the project to happen? Was there a driver, such as an adjacent project or the opening of a new transit facility or building nearby? Was it an old place that was in poor shape and needed to be refurbished? Did nearby development or investment or shifting demographics have anything to do with it? Did an impending major sporting, cultural, political, or other type of event drive the need? Did some new source of funds become available that made the idea more viable? Sometimes money chases projects, rather than projects chasing money. (And sometimes solutions are looking for problems rather than the other way around.)


How did it get done? Assuming you have the answers to the previous five questions, how was the project implemented? In the next section we will explore this question from the perspective of timing, how a project gets started, and then how it unfolds.


Producing the Urban Public Realm: Field Notes on Project Implementation Copyright © by Peter Hendee Brown. All Rights Reserved.

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