Can the private sector save public parks?

Should American cities outsource public parks to the private sector? Journalist John Stossel and architect Shirley Kressel debate the merits of the corporate Common.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

Thousands upon thousands of parks in the United States are filthy, dangerous and badly maintained, managed by municipal governments on shoestring budgets, writes outspoken journalist John Stossel at Reason.

Why shouldn't we outsource them to the private sector?

According to Stossel, there's nothing wrong with the concept -- even if it means year-round retail concessions.

Take New York City's Bryant Park in Manhattan: when social entrepreneur Dan Biederman raised funds in a vaccuum of investment decades ago, the park cleaned up its act -- though it certainly doesn't hurt that upscale businesses like Bank of America and magazine publisher Conde Nast have sky-scraping headquarters nearby, just a block away from (now-gentrified) Times Square.

Similarly, Stossel writes that New York's massive Central Park gets a lot of money from a charity filled with donations from (well-heeled) residents on three of its four sides -- no corporations necessary.

Why not roll the model out to other city parks, he asks, like the Boston Common?

Because it doesn't work elsewhere, writes equally-outspoken architect and urban designer Shirley Kressel.

According to Kressel, public parks must remain private for psychological reasons -- socioeconomic friction -- and the physical: while parks located near corporate coffers get a makeover, neglected parks in low-income neighborhoods get...more neglected.

She writes:

They create a two-tiered public realm: the manicured spaces, free of "undesirables," supported by the wealthy, and the neglected ones in neighborhoods where residents have no time or money to devote to their upkeep, and where no corporations are interested in marketing their philanthropic image.

What's the answer? Can privatization work for Boston and other cities? (Should it be used selectively where only improvement is expected?)

Or is the concept a violation of the principle of "public"?

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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