Invest in the Public Realm
Peter Hendee Brown, Urban Development Consultant, Lecturer, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota, Penn IUR Scholar
The flight to the city is on, and to enhance both productivity and quality of life in our cities, we must invest in our urban public realm. Many of the 75 million members of the millennial generation are abandoning their suburban upbringings and demanding a new urban lifestyle, complete with new real estate product types for living, working, and playing, all with an emphasis on shared social spaces — inside and out. Many of their parents — the 74 million baby boomers — are demanding similar things. Together, these two cohorts represent nearly half of our population and they will reshape our cities in powerful ways.
Cities will need to reinvest in older parks, plazas and streets, but they will also need to provide new public spaces in developing areas that never had them — waterfronts, industrial sites, rail yards, and acres of surface parking. As important will be the re-envisioning of the public right-of-way — the street — as a place that accommodates not just cars but multiple transportation modes including cars, buses, rail, and bicycles, all integrated into a pedestrian-friendly and green environment.The greening of city streets will become critical for the creation of lush and livable places while also producing social, economic, and environmental benefits.
Perhaps most important, the work of improving our public realm will require commitment to multi-disciplinary collaboration and broad and genuine stakeholder engagement processes at an entirely new level. Complicated public realm projects will require a form of project team leadership that looks more like representative democracy than a single design visionary. Facilitating this process — and successfully building this new public realm — will require uniquely skilled and open-minded planners and designers who can help us envision a better way to live together in our cities.