The Future of Public Space, From the South Bronx to Bogotá

What does it take to create a public space that is inclusive and welcoming to everyone — a space that is really and truly public? That question is gaining in urgency as people around the world, from New York to Istanbul, are increasingly realizing the power and importance of public space.

Next week, in the second of this summer’s “Beyond the High Line” talks in New York City’s High Line Park, Majora Carter and Enrique Peñalosa — two of the most influential names in urban thinking today — will meet to discuss “Building Equitable Cities and Public Spaces.”

Carter rose to national prominence as the founder of Sustainable South Bronx, an organization that pioneered a vision of environmental and economic justice in one of the nation’s poorest and most stigmatized neighborhoods. The organization, which she headed from 2001 to 2008, drove a national conversation about urban forestry, land use and green infrastructure.

Carter has firsthand experience with planning parks in underserved areas. She wrote a $1.25 million planning grant for U.S. Department of Transportation funding for the South Bronx Greenway, a waterfront network of green space and bike-pedestrian paths that’s now becoming a reality for the often-neglected borough.

Carter, a recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant, currently heads up the Majora Carter Group, working on real estate development “designed to move Americans out of poverty.” In a February blog post, she wrote this about what poor communities need in today’s cities:

Poor people like nice things, and also yearn for safe and vibrant lifestyles, with goods and services that they currently leave their communities to find. Everything from healthy, competitively priced food, to nice restaurants and shops, quality open space, and excellent schools, make up a quality of life package that is missing for more and more poor Americans — especially those where highly subsidized “affordable” housing is concentrated.

Enrique Peñalosa was mayor of Bogotá from 1998 to 2001, during which time he led a forceful movement to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety, create neighborhood parks and provide quality public transportation to the city’s 6 million residents in the form of an extensive bus rapid transit system. He is especially well known for his promotion of the Ciclovía, a monthly car-free day when people take to the streets to ride bikes, dance, walk and enjoy a cityscape that is not dominated by automobiles. The concept has spread to cities around the world.

Peñalosa is now president of the board of the Institution for Transportation and Development Policy, and speaks frequently on the importance of creating cities where people of all ages can feel safe in public spaces and on the streets. “An advanced city is not a place where the poor move about in cars,” he has said, “rather it’s where even the rich use public transportation.”

Peñalosa and Carter will engage in a free-ranging discussion of public space, equity and social justice. The talk is part of a series in which Friends of the High Line is seeking to further dialogue about the value of public space and how best to create and sustain it in an urban environment.

Monday, July 15, 6:30pm to 8pm, on the High Line at the 14th Street Passage. Free and open to the public.

This post is sponsored by Friends of the High Line.

Sarah Goodyear has written about cities for a variety of publications, including CityLab, Grist and Streetsblog. She lives in Brooklyn.

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Tags: economic developmentparkspublic spacesustainable citieshigh linemajora carter