Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Urban Policies and Public Space Allocation

A couple of months ago, I shared a post with a short presentation by Janette Sadik-Khan talking about the recent low-cost interventions on public space in NY City. The fact is that these interventions have been around for years now, and Clarence Eckerson and the team at Streetfilms have been documenting these changes since their early stages.

Here is one of their short films showing the remarkable before-and-after transformation of several streets and intersections in NY City. (via Sarah Goodyear):

What makes me particularly interested in such urban transformations is the way they make evident the idea that public space is a scarce resource in large cities. Though unnoticed by some policy makers, great cities face a clear resource dilemma in the allocation of public space in general and road space in central areas in particular. In some large cities like London, transport authorities have acknowledged this issue a long time ago.

Deciding upon who should have the priority to use urban space in certain areas of the city (drivers, cyclists, pedestrians and/or public transport users), however, is quite complex. These decisions are complex both because of the technical aspects in the construction of bike lanes, bus lanes and corridors, congestion charging schemes etc. and especially because of the public and political acceptability of such decisions (Banister, 1994).

In the way I like to read these 'urban interventions', they all come down to the role played by policy makers in mediating conflicts that arise from unjust/asymmetrical appropriation of space by individuals and social groups. And as in any other field of public policy, it is crucial to evaluate such urban policies in order to identify those types of interventions that work and to learn from those that do not work. I will probably dedicate more attention to this topic in my research, so hopefully I'll post more on this theme in the future.