The evolution of public spaces in New York City is a captivating story. From the early 1960s, when the New York City Planning Commission first began to draft plans for public spaces, to the present day, when COVID-19 has brought many New Yorkers closer to their immediate public spaces and parks, the city has seen a great deal of transformation. William H. Whyte, a social scientist, was a key figure in helping the Planning Commission create their plans for public spaces.
He was renowned for his work in designing new urban spaces, but he also had a keen interest in understanding how people were actually using them. Mariana Mogilevich, an expert in architecture and urban planning, has noted that New York City is "a particularly fertile ground for the development of dedicated public spaces." She explains that these new or reused public spaces could demonstrate that the city was for people who had been excluded from the public sphere. During the urban crisis of the 1970s, New York City utilized these spaces to great effect. Nowadays, proposals to reconfigure traffic patterns in order to create new public spaces are commonplace.
At the same time, non-public spaces such as balconies, private patios, shared spaces and rooftops in new residential developments are being used as an important strategy for selling real estate in New York. To gain a better understanding of the evolution of public spaces in New York City, Kayden, the Department of Urban Planning and the Municipal Art Society (MAS) joined forces to conduct a comprehensive analysis of these spaces. They developed an electronic database with detailed information on each public space and used their research for urban planning initiatives in the coming years. The history of public spaces in New York City is one that has been shaped by numerous factors.
From William H. Whyte's work in the 1960s to today's proposals for reconfiguring traffic patterns and creating new public spaces, this history is one that continues to evolve and shape our urban landscape.