UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Using pilot projects to reclaim public space for pedestrians : lessons from New York City and San Francisco Peterson, Evan Franklin


In North America, the development of a people-oriented public realm faces a number of political and financial barriers. As a result, conventional car-oriented built forms and policies perpetuate long after they have proven to be dysfunctional. Pilot-testing – the evaluative use of a trial intervention – is emerging as an effective way to overcome these barriers and pedestrianize small public spaces. This thesis sought to provide a better understanding of public space pilot projects and make recommendations about how municipalities can maximize the benefits and minimize the costs of this strategic tool. The researcher conducted an exploratory case study of the pilot programs in New York City and San Francisco, using focused interviews, archival analysis, and an assessment of documentation. The pilot-testing process from each city, as well as individual pilot projects, were described and evaluated using two analytical frameworks developed by the researcher. Planning implications (i.e., advantages and disadvantages) were then discussed and recommendations presented. Key findings from the case study include a) the importance of collaboration (e.g., with other city agencies) and partnerships (e.g., with local merchants) in making projects feasible and inexpensive; b) how exemption from most forms of review enables projects to overcome accountability and be implemented quickly; and c) the high value of iterative and incremental processes to public realm transitions. While needing to be thoughtfully employed, pilot projects are a timely and effective way to minimize costs, refine designs, and gain political, public, and financial support in the creation of people-oriented public spaces.

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