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Encouraging Open Space Development

There’s no doubt in my mind that as cities across the globe continue to grow, it will become imperative to provide urban residents with convenient access to relaxing open spaces. Anyone who has lived or worked in an urban environment knows that parks, river walks, and playing fields provide respite from clustered streets and over trafficked grids. And research now shows that open spaces increase real estate value in urban environments.

As my colleague Greg Clarke and I recently discussed at the annual MIPIM conference for real estate professionals, architects and urban planners are in a unique position to help cities formulate strategies for developing open spaces and effectively integrating them into existing city grids. 

Developing design guidelines: There is a huge demand for what we call ‘design guidelines’ for open space development. Cities want more open spaces, but many lack the authoritative insight needed to proceed with development. For example, no guidelines exist dictating the optimal amount of open space per square kilometer of urban environment, and this lack of knowledge is hindering city governments from initiating further development.

Codifying a set of requirements and best practices for open space development in urban environments could solve this problem and empower cities to move forward with development. Currently, urban planners are looking to the design community for help.

Sources of funding: Development costs money, and the global financial crisis has stripped state and local governments of capital to invest in open space projects. While several solutions—such as business investment districts (BID)—exist, they are only applicable under certain circumstances.

We believe it would be useful to completely reevaluate the currently available funding mechanisms for open space development. For example, countries should reconsider the role of national governments. In many countries, relatively disempowered local governments do not have the autonomy to create incentives for businesses—through mechanisms such as tax breaks and enterprise zones—to fund open space development. In these particular instances, national governments could step in and incentivize the private sector to get involved in development.

We also think it’s important to note that as the public sector looks to minimise deficits, the burden of developing open spaces will inevitably shift to the private sector. Research has shown that open spaces have positive financial implications for private sector companies, so it remains in their best interest to help spur further development.

Looking for leaders: We are also seeing a leadership vacuum get in the way of open space development. It’s clear that cities, businesses, and residents want more open spaces, but each group is looking to the other to get the ball rolling.

We believe that institutes such as the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and design firms such as Gensler are in a unique position to provide the leadership to break this impasse. Members of our professions already have intricate knowledge of urban design and economic development. Now, we need to impart this knowledge to all relevant parties and provide the leadership that is necessary to initiate open space development in cities around the globe.

Ian Mulcahey runs Gensler's firm wide Planning and Urban Design practice area. As the leader of a multidisciplinary team of planners, architects, and urban designers, he's interested in creating compelling spaces that add to the richness of urban environments, and he recognizes the competing political, commercial, and social forces that influence urban planning and design. Contact him at ian_mulcahey@gensler.com.
Greg Clark acts a ‘thought leader’ and ‘event leader’ for local, regional, and national governments, major corporations, inter-governmental and business groups on City and Regional Development, and Public Private co-investment world-wide. His work includes both a portfolio of corporate and institutional roles, and individual assignments/events. Contact him at gregclark@citiesandregions.com.

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