Privatizing Parks

Nov 12, 2012 | Atlanta, GA

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Parks, plazas, and other public spaces serve as epicenters of democratic expression and communal interaction.  However, governments across the country are transferring ownership of public spaces to private entities in an effort to reduce costs. In the 2012 Georgia Tech applied research paper “Using Public Spaces Freely: Ownership and Management of Public Spaces,” Allison Buchwach (MCRP ’12) identifies a lack of direct comparisons between publically and privately developed and operated spaces and their ability to serve the public.

To explore the effects that ownership and management structure can have on the ability to use public space freely, Buchwach chose 12 outdoor spaces around the City of Atlanta including Piedmont Park and One Atlantic Center's plaza. The strength and weaknesses these two locations plus five other publically owned and managed spaces and five other privately owned and managed spaces were evaluated using an adjusted Nemeth index that focused on access, security, rules, design, and amenities.

In an effort to offer the most accessible environment possible for any member of the public and to accommodate a large diversity of public activities, Buchwach recommends that municipalities keep an open mind to private ownership of public spaces. She argues that while private entities are less likely to create public space in the absence of regulation, differences in ownership status play little role in the creation of successful public space. Private entities can create public spaces just as effectively as the public sector, and therefore governmental bodies should incentivize public space creation in the private sector. The most important factor in determining if a space maintains a public nature, argues Buchwach, is not who built it and who controls it, but rather the geographical size of the space.

Allison Buchwach is a 2012 graduate of Georgia Tech's School of City and Regional Planning, and currently works as the Transportation and Community Development Intern at the Center for Neighborhood Technology. Associate Professor Brian Stone served as her applied research paper advisor.