Learning from Bryant Park (Free)

A roundup of my recent media appearances

Here’s a recent roundup of where I’ve appeared in the media lately.

I was recently quoted in a Vice Motherboard piece about traffic forecasting that went viral. The author reached out to me after finding my work comparing the traffic forecasts used to sell the Louisville bridges project to the public vs. the much lower forecasts used to sell bonds for the project after it was too late to cancel the project. It’s a good article - I actually learned some things from it myself.

I was also quoted in an article in Crain’s Chicago Business about changes in real estate demand post-pandemic.

And I wrote an op-ed for the Indianapolis Business Journal about the importance of regionalism for metro Indy today.

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In the September issue of the New Criterion, I have a review of Andy Manshel’s book Learning from Bryant Park. Manshel was a one of the senior people who helped revive Bryant Park in New York City. This book is an absolute must-read for any civic leader who is trying to improve public spaces in his city.

The most important takeaway is that management of space is far more important than the physical design of the space. From my review:

But the physical redesign was a secondary element in the park’s success. More critical, argues Manshel, were the management and operations of the park afterwards. He writes, “The first thing to consider isn’t how the space is going to be designed but rather how it is going to be managed.” This is the opposite of the typical approach, in which cities spend tens of millions of dollars on designs from big-name architects but skimp on maintenance. As Manshel says, “I contend that just about any public space can be revitalized through excellent maintenance and programming no matter how poorly laid out.”

World-class operations were part of Bryant Park’s transformation from the beginning. In 1980, concerned parties created the non-profit Bryant Park Restoration Corporation (bprc). Along with the Central Park Conservancy, the bprc was one of the two 1980s-era entities that demonstrated private management was a viable option for improving public spaces. The bprc’s first director was Dan Biederman, who proved himself more than capable in the arts of public space management (and who still runs the park today). Manshel was hired by Biederman during the park’s reconstruction, and he worked as part of the bprc for several critical early years as the park was transformed.

The first key to successful public space management is ensuring its physical maintenance. “Providing the highest possible level of maintenance in a public space is the sine qua non of placemaking. It is job one. There is no substitute for it,” Manshel writes. Physical maintenance follows from the “broken windows” principle in which even seemingly insignificant physical damage such as a simple broken window signals disorder and likely tolerance of antisocial behavior. Well-maintained spaces, however, project social order and make people feel safe, which is a precondition to their being willing to use a public space: “The programs we implemented were designed to make clear that the space had returned to social control and visitors could expect no threatening or uncomfortable experiences. Graffiti was immediately removed, stolen plants were quickly replaced, trash was efficiently picked up, and trash baskets never, ever were allowed to overflow. An immaculately maintained restroom became part of the park’s physical restoration, powerfully communicating a sense of stability to park users.”

Click through to read the whole thing. If the article is available only to subscribers, then I encourage you to simply buy the book.