Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

More on privatized public spaces: CityCenterDC

Some day, maybe I will write a magisterial piece on this, maybe not. The issue is how do we plan for and include "public spaces" in communities when most of the development agenda is driven by private property owners, and public spaces under their control are not "free and open" to the public, but are subject to the rules and controls of the property owner.

Today's New York Times love-piece on the coming development downtown, CityCenterDC, "Blocks From the President, Developers Plan Big," does end with some remonstration about the "public space" within the project. From the article:

In their marketing materials, Hines and Archstone say they intend to provide “an authentic place for urban residents to socialize outside their homes.”

But some planning specialists have wondered if people in downtown Washington will view the plaza, which will be situated between the condo and rental buildings, as public space for them to enjoy. “Putting the plaza in the middle of a large development just feels more private,” said David Dixon, who is in charge of planning and urban design at Goody Clancy & Associates, a design firm in Boston.

Mr. Jacobson said the developers planned to offer programs in the plaza and would make it welcoming with public art and landscaping. “People will find it to be inviting,” he said. “I realize we have to convince some people. Hopefully, we’ll do a better job over the next year or so.”

When DC set out the requirements for the site, significant requirements for specialty unique retail were included in the development agreement. The article mentions the developers are seeking a branch of the Apple store, and back in the day, they were trying to land a branch of the Nordstroms Department Store.

Interestingly, and another interesting element of privatization and strictures on operations, because the primary owner of the development is now the real estate arm of the Persian Gulf state of Qatar, certain Islamic strictures are in play. From the article:

Even before the Qatari investors became involved, Hines and Archstone determined that leasing to banks would not help them create lively shopping streets, Mr. Alsup said. But as it happened, their hesitancy on bank branches meshed with the policies of their financial partners, who adhere to the restrictions of Shariah, or Islamic law, including the ban on collecting interest. Restaurants will be able to serve liquor, but retailers whose primary business involves selling alcohol will not be allowed, Mr. Alsup said.

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