Bryant Park

In the News

Making a Great Public Space

Renowned urban scholar cites Bryant Park as a prime example of effective management.

Angelito Jusay

Alexander Garvin, architect, city planner, and Yale Professor, is the author of The American City: What Works and What Doesn’t, one of the essential texts on urban life in the U.S. He’s also President and CEO of AGA Public Realm Strategies, the firm that developed the initial master plan for the Atlanta BeltLine, a 23-mile landscaped trail encircling the city that connects neighborhoods, parks, and transit. In other words, this is a man who knows about public spaces.

His latest book is titled What Makes a Great City and was recently reviewed by David R. Godschalk in Urban Land Magazine, a publication of the Urban Land Institute. In his review, Godschalk quotes Garvin as writing that “the secret to urban greatness stems from management of the streets, squares, parks, and special places that make up the ‘public realm.’ To maintain greatness, cities must not only maintain but also “continually alter their public realm to meet the changing needs of their occupants.”

In the book, Garvin also states his conviction that “a great public realm should be open to anybody, offer something for everybody, attract and retain market demand, provide a framework for successful urbanization, sustain a habitable environment, and nurture and support a civil society. His philosophy is a rich blend of democracy, urban design, and real estate development.”

Since we agree whole-heartedly with all of this, we were pleased that the review cited Bryant Park as an exemplar of these characteristics: “Adjacent to the New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, Bryant Park had become a neglected hangout for dope dealers and muggers. During the 1980s, some 900 arrests per year were made in the park. To turn the park around, adjacent businesses and property owners created a nonprofit corporation with a business improvement district (BID) funded by a real estate tax surcharge. The public-realm design and management improvements generated additional demand for retail stores and offices surrounding the park, with office rent increases outstripping those of Rockefeller Center. Thousands of people now use the park for daily activities year round.”

We never get tired of hearing or reading the story of Bryant Park’s renaissance. Yes, we are proud of our work here, but also, we believe that our methods and strategies are transferable to public spaces everywhere. By spreading the word, articles like this put the idea into the minds of decision-makers around the world that what happened here can happen to their public spaces as well.    

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