New York with its Public Spaces
New York City is a wonderful city in this world and one should not question its diversity. This city is full of public spaces and people from all over the world visit these places and form friendships, learn from each other, and share their views. “Great public spaces are those places where celebrations are held, social and economic exchanges occur, friends run into each other, and cultures mix.” (PPS) So, public space cannot just be a space made for the public, it has to meet its criteria. “… public spaces express the desire of mobilization and togetherness, the social and cultural link of “being together.” These possibilities are shaping politics and making the place that places are the pursuit of difference and of public legitimization of otherness; the recognition of conflict and dissonance; the polysemy of spaces and spatial practices.” (Lopes P.6) Again, there needs to be different links based on different aspects, between the users of a public space or else it cannot have a recognition as a public space. So, “Public Space” is much more than just the literal meaning of it. A public space can be used for purposes like tourism, entertainment, and picnic etc. New York City has a lot of entertainment places and tourists are also interacted to them. There are good public spaces and there are bad public spaces. Good public spaces include the following characteristics but are not limited to: ease of access, interaction and connection between the users of the space, and safety. Whereas bad public spaces include the following characteristics but are not limited to: danger, poor accessibility, poor attraction, little to none social infrastructure and discomfort for the users. An entertainment public space should fulfill its purpose which includes joy and comfort, it should be safe and openly accessible to all the public, and it must allow for the interaction between people who use the space or else it is a bad public space.
Research was also done by the Cambridge University’s students that agrees with my definition of a good public space. “Public Space” by “Cambridge University Press”, states “There are three primary values that guide the development of our perspective: We believe that public spaces should be responsive, democratic, and meaningful.” (P.19) This illustrates that a Public Space should care for it users. Responsive means that the space should reflect user’s needs such as comfort, joy, and exercise etc. Democratic means that the space should care for the rights of its users such as accessibility to everyone and safety etc. Meaningful means that the space should allow for the interaction between the users, it should allow strong connections between its users, and their personal lives etc.
Let’s start with the common form of public spaces, the parks in New York City, which mostly fulfill their purpose for joy and comfort. These parks and playgrounds are mainly for the joy of the kids who use it. So, if the kids are the users of these playgrounds, then these playgrounds should be designed the way these kids want them to be. In other words, one should think like a child to design the best playground. For instance, the kids in “The Land” create their own playground and their self-created playground fulfilled its purpose for the joy of the kids. Another example is a Public School, John Dewey High School. It solely fulfills its purpose to provide education and joy for the students. It addresses their needs and provides quality education. It has an interaction place for students as shown below. When it comes to a place fulfilling its purpose, there are many that do not fulfill their purpose. “Some motives for public space do not adequately reflect user needs. As a result, there have been failures in design and management and much criticism.” (Stephen, P.2) I spent my childhood in Pakistan where there are many public spaces that do not fulfill their purpose of which public schools are a common one. The public schools there have a very low funding and there is a huge amount of discomfort for the students such as the broken chairs or even no chairs at all, poor lunch, and aggressive teachers who do not care about students and instead of making the students understand the materials, they are forced to memorize the things without even knowing what they mean. This is not a good example of fulfilling the purpose of something. Also, these schools are not democratic in any way. Like I said, the rights of the students are ridiculously violated. I cannot even imagine to study in a school that does not have chairs and is never cleaned, and the food you have to buy when you are hungry would cause food poisoning. These school conditions can answer the common question people ask me about the public in Pakistan: “Why are so many people uneducated?”. I used to ask this question to myself long time ago but now I can answer it thoroughly if not completely. There were several cases when children were beaten to death because they did not complete their HW when they were working to feed their families. The deaths of these innocent children were sometimes because of their medical conditions like heart disease but the harsh punishments cannot be ignored. These deaths caused the government of Pakistan to take some actions which passed laws prohibited child abuse in schools and passed on instructions to inform the department of education in any punishment case. However, this didn’t eliminate the child abuse because parents of the children over-respected the teachers who punished their children as they were criminals, not students. Very few parents filed complaints to the Education Department but solute to those who did because they were protecting the rights of their children and were making the public schools in their area democratic. Below is an example of a very rough classroom. It truly causes discomfort for students, violating the responsive and democratic categories of a public space. One thing not to be ignored is that these schools are at least meaningful because the students interact with each other and feel pity on each other.
After fulfilling the purpose, a public space should be accessible for the entire public and it should be safe for the entire public. Whether private or public, safety is a very significant aspect for literally every place. There are several departments in NYC that are very serious about the safety of different places. Below is a picture of a playground in NYC, the Pier 1 playground.
As you can see that the playground does not have a rubber floor and if the kids playing here fall while running, bad injuries can occur. Moreover, this place seems very isolating. New York City should be awarded for its safety of the public schools. There have been several school shootings in the United States this year which are not to forget. There have been 262 mass shootings in the U.S in 263 days. For instance, according to the Gun Violence Archive, “There have been 262 American mass shootings (4+ shot or killed in the same incident, not including the shooter) in the 263 days of 2018,” (Vox.com) New York City’s public schools are very safe. In most of the schools, the person entering the school has to go through scanning which eliminates the risk of weapons entering the school. Moreover, there are several school safety cars and the NYPD at subway stations. However, a lot of New York City parks are not safe. Most are safe in usage but are not safe from dangerous people (people with weapons etc.). There are adults who hurt the children playing in the parks. I remember my own story when I was on a swing at the Brizzi Playground, in Borough Park Brooklyn, NY. While I was on a swing, a woman came and told me to get up and I did not speak English back then so I refused to listen to anything she was saying. She stopped my swing and pushed me off of the swing. This to me, was a terrorist attack. So, more safety is needed in these parks such as Police cars travelling around and safety team. The City did a great job making central park better because there was a time when there were no cameras in central park and several crimes were common there. Today, central park is a great tourist attraction. People from all over the world visit the park and there was no crime incident like before.
Another great example of a public park is “Sunset Park” in Brooklyn, NYC. It fulfills several purposes. It allows the kids to play the way they want. It allows the parents of the kids to actively observe them. This park has public schools nearby and NYPD car is usually around the park or inside the car. The park has some space dedicated for the kids to play which contains showers and swings etc. There is also a basketball court and the rest of the place is pretty big and is grass. The park offers a lot of joy and comfort for the users. It offers views of the NYC skyline, the Verrazano Bridge, the hills of Staten Island, and the Statue of Liberty. The place can allow for a lot of interaction between people. So, it truly fulfills its purpose, it provides joy and comfort, it is safe, and last but not least, it is openly accessible to all the public. There is a ramp for the disabled, and there is no cost or barrier for anyone. Below are the pictures of sunset park.
In contrast to the Sunset Park, there is University Woods park in Bronx, NYC. It feels very shameful to call this place a public park. As you can see the pictures below, this place does not really fulfill any aspect of a good public space. It is not safe for its users and the events that occur in this place are shameful to talk about. They are described by the New York Times paper. “The park is dangerous,” Mr. Calderon said in Spanish. “People who are in there do things I don’t want to see.” (New York Times). Moreover, the pictures below show that this place is not openly accessible for everyone. It has stairs and paths that lead to nowhere. It is dirty and never maintained.
In conclusion, New York City has both, good and bad public spaces. The bad public spaces need to be turned it to good public spaces. One should think like a child to design the best playground, and should think like a parent to design a safe playground, and think like a community member to design a playground that reflects different aspects of the community. In other words, a public space that is created should be created with facilities and design that would satisfy the users of the public space, it should be safe for the users and for the non-users, it should not cause any problem and last but not least, it should be a public space that the community needs. For instance, if the community needs a public school, a public park cannot replace it.
Lopez. “There Have Been 263 Days in 2018 – and 262 Mass Shootings in America.” Vox.com, Vox Media, 20 Sept. 2018, www.vox.com/2018/9/20/17882888/mass-shootings-us-aberdeen-maryland.
Teixeira Lopes, Joao, and Ray Hutchison. Public Spaces : Times of Crisis and Change. Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2016. EBSCOhost, ccny-proxy1.libr.ccny.cuny.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e000xna&AN=1423698&site=ehost-live.
“What Makes a Successful Place?” Project for Public Spaces, www.pps.org/article/grplacefeat.
Carr, Stephen, et al. Public Space. Cambridge University Press, 2009
Carr, Tammara, et al. “Great Public Spaces.” Planning, vol. 75, no. 11, Dec. 2009, pp. 13–15. EBSCOhost, ccny-proxy1.libr.ccny.cuny.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bvh&AN=642271&site=ehost-live.
Valentine, Gill. Public Space and the Culture of Childhood. Routledge, 2016. EBSCOhost, ccny-proxy1.libr.ccny.cuny.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e000xna&AN=1480850&site=ehost-live.
Poirier, David A., and Kenneth L. Feder. Dangerous Places : Health, Safety, and Archaeology. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001. EBSCOhost, ccny-proxy1.libr.ccny.cuny.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e000xna&AN=69295&site=ehost-live.
Lima, Marybeth. Building Playgrounds, Engaging Communities : Creating Safe and Happy Places for Children. LSU Press, 2013. EBSCOhost, ccny-proxy1.libr.ccny.cuny.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e000xna&AN=520980&site=ehost-live.
Williams, Timothy. “Parks Even the Parks Dept. Won’t Claim.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 6 July 2005, www.nytimes.com/2005/07/06/nyregion/parks-even-the-parks-dept-wont-claim.html.
“Playgrounds in New York: The Top 10.” Loving New York, 7 Dec. 2016, loving-newyork.com/uk/playgrounds-in-new-york/.