Date of Award

8-31-2020

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Urban Systems - (Ph.D.)

Department

New Jersey School of Architecture

First Advisor

Karen A. Franck

Second Advisor

Laura J. Lawson

Third Advisor

Arthur B. Powell

Fourth Advisor

David J. Burney

Abstract

Traditional public spaces —such as public parks, streets, and public squares—have long been part of the urban landscape. In today’s congested cities, however, creating such public spaces is difficult because they require capital investment, vacant land, and ongoing maintenance. Possibly in response to these obstacles, new types of urban public spaces have emerged.

Pedestrian plazas, one of these new types, is the topic of this research, with a focus on the New York City Plaza Program, which was the first such program in the U.S. For this research, the design, management, and use characteristics of five completed pedestrian plazas were examined, with attention also given to the partnerships behind the creation and maintenance of these plazas. The role the partners played in the plaza program was also investigated to understand its impact on the design, management, maintenance, and use of pedestrian plazas. The five case study plazas are located in neighborhoods without sufficient public space, as determined by the Department of Transportation, which runs the program. The following data collection strategies were used: site observations, user surveys, and interviews with government officials and sponsor partners.

This research demonstrates that although pedestrian plazas are relatively small and are located immediately adjacent to roadways, they fulfill an important role in urban neighborhoods that otherwise lack sufficient public space for recreation. The type and diversity of activities vary between the plazas, depending on features of their design, maintenance, and management. The findings suggest that partnerships between the City and community organizations in the New York City Plaza Program play a prominent role in shaping design, maintenance, and management strategies, which affect their use. Neighborhood residents use the case study pedestrian plazas in a variety of ways, including for gathering with friends and family, people-watching, chatting, eating and drinking, and attending programmed events. Some plazas are typically frequented by the same people on a daily basis and become popular gathering places whereas other plazas are more often used for shorter periods of time for eating lunch, meeting someone, and taking a brief rest.

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