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New York City: An Examination of Urban Design and Space Function as it Relates to Civic Participation

The objective of this study is to examine urban design and space function as it relates to civic participation in New York City. Kevin Lynch conducted systematic and scientific-based research on urban design in his exploration of the elements of urban design. Lynch stated that every individual "has had a long association with some parts of his city and his image is soaked in memories and meaning." (1960, p.2) The goal of Lynch is reported to be the study of the city's mental images held by its citizens. Lynch focused his work on the city's visual quality or the "apparent clarity and 'legibility of the city-scape." What Lynch meant was the level of ease with which the city's parts could be organized into a pattern that was of a coherent nature. The city, if visual is such that can be "grasped as a pattern of recognizable symbols." (Marling, 2008, p.3) Marling (2008) reports that the results of Lynch's studies "is that a legible city could be one of the districts, landmarks, or pathways of which are easily identifiable and grouped into an overall pattern" and in what was Lynch's interest in the city "as a communication system, communicating memories, history and identity." (2008, p.3) Lynch's study involved talking to the inhabitants of three different cities for the purpose of developing and testing his ideas relating to "imageability, and also by comparing image with reality to learn which forms make for strong images." (Marling, 2008, p.3) Lynch then went on to interview local individuals in the three cities and asked the individuals to respond to questions about what symbolizes their city and to draw a city map on a piece of paper including their route from home to work describing what they heard, saw, and smelled and their feelings. The city maps were studied and then compared with professionally prepared maps and findings included that five distinct elements existing including: (1) path; (2) edge; (3) district; (4) node; and (5) landmark. Lynch held that these five elements were useful as "building blocks for urban designers giving form to new urban projects." (Marling, 2008, p. 4) Lynch is noted as stating as follows:

"In such a whole paths would expose and prepare for the districts, and link together the various nodes. The nodes would joint and mark the paths, while the edges would bound off the districts and the landmark would indicate their cores. It is the total orchestration of these units which would knit together a dense and vivid image, and sustain it over areas of metropolitan scale" (Lynch, 1960 p.108)

In an interview with Paul Fraiolli published in Columbia University's Journal of International Affairs, Rem Koolhaas states that what is witnesses more than anything is "the inability of almost every political system to anticipate, mobilize, and take precautions for the future, even when it is obvious that cities will grow or shrink rapidly." (2012, p.1) In the case of New York City, with a population that doubled and then some in the early part of the 20th century, the city administrators were concerns with the interlacing of communication and transportation systems to create coherence within the metropolitan area." (Christian Science Monitor, 2013, p.1)

I. New York City Boroughs

The system's first segment opened in 1904 and the boroughs were all linked except that of Staten Island. The transportation system is reported to have handled in excess of two billion passengers each year. There are presently hundreds of thousands of 'outer borough' residents working in Manhattan or traveling to Manhattan each day. All the boroughs are reported to rank in the U.S.'s largest cities except Staten Island.

There are complaints from legislators in the boroughs that they concerns are not acknowledged and beliefs exist that interests of the locale are sacrificed for the welfare of Manhattan. This resulted in Staten Island seceding from New York City in the 1990s and becoming an independent city. Problems with governing the boroughs of New York City include the aspect of civic engagement and involvement on the part of citizens of these areas. Due to the problems in New York City with transportation means and with public space availability for meeting with the public on civic and government issues, there has been a failure of engaging the individuals residing in the various boroughs of New York City.

II. Placemaking and Governance

Technology is reported to have enhanced the governing of boroughs in that NYC Votes, a public-private partnership that has sought to "promote voter registration, participation, and civic engagement in elections through technology." (Pivotal Labs, 2013, p.1) It is reported that Pivotal Labs in collaboration with Method and AppOrchard, assisted the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) and its Voter Assistance Committee (VAAC) in the creation of a "mobile website that will streamline the political process for voters and candidates alike." (Pivotal Labs, 2013, p.1) The mission of VAAC is the increasing of civic engagement in all local elections through providing encouragement to New Yorkers to register and vote. However, there is still the problem of the actual governance of the boroughs but the Project for Public Space (PPS) has a model that it believes will be effective toward this end. The work of Kent (2013) reports that governance "is not set up to create great places. Indeed the current culture and structure of government and civic infrastructure may be the greatest obstacle to successful 'Placemaking'." (Kent, 2013, p.1) Kent states as follows about 'placemaking':

"When a government organizes itself around creating successful public spaces and generating Place Capital, it is often able to accomplish a broad range of existing goals more efficiently. When performing at their best, communities organize to compete to contribute to the public realm and shared value. Indeed, the most loved places were invariably created through this often informally generated culture of governance." (Kent, 2013, p.1)

Kent states that public space management is the latest in place government and both informal and formal management of public spaces ensure that the spaces are workable. Research findings show that by using the 'placemaking' process that governments are able to "self-govern, by creating a culture of engagement in the community that supports a given space." (Kent, 2013, p.1) Placemaking is reported to both identify and attract local leadership, resources, and partners on all community and governmental levels. Kent asks the question of: "What if a central focus of governance became: the building of successful places?" And states as an answer "there is general comfort and energy to make that happen, to work together in new ways. The fractured, siloed structure of contemporary government, with its myriad departments and bureaucratic processes, often directly impedes the creation of successful public spaces. Transportation departments view their mission as moving traffic; parks departments are there to create and manage open green space; community development agencies are focused on development of projects, not the spaces in between them or the organic opportunities that arise from social interactions within them." (Kent, 2013, p.1)

II. Typical vs. Placemaking Governance Structure

The typical governance structure is one that has political leadership at the top of the ladder with public administration in the middle and the community at the lower level of the rungs of the governance ladder. The typical governance structure is characterized by the following: (1) Problem-focused; (2) politically motivated; (3) a short-term focus; (4) a bureaucratic process; (5) siloed departments; (6) resistant citizens; (7) incremental change; and (8) limited participation of buy-in of citizens in the community. (Kent, 2013, p.1) The following illustration conveys this structure.

Figure 1

Source: (Kent, 2013, p.1)

The placemaking governance structure by contrast has leadership at all levels including politically, in business, in the community and the…[continue]

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