Friday, September 09, 2011

Public Private Partnerships

These are generally very good arrangements, allowing the public sector to maintain ownership—and ultimate control—over the commons, while having the private sector, either a forprofit or nonprofit, manage it.

However, some see problems with this, but those expressed in this article from My South End in Boston, are not problems to most people, but solutions that increase public safety, which most park visitors probably applaud.

An excerpt.

“It’s lunchtime on a beautiful spring day in Boston. You sit on a bench in a park right in the middle of the city. You check out the buildings around you and marvel at how much they are worth thanks to the protected green space where you are sitting. Everyone loves this space.

“While you sit happily, enjoying the sun, it might bother you to learn that the land on which you bask is publicly owned -- but privately controlled. The City handed it to a private development group to build an underground garage topped with this park. The renowned private Friends group that keeps the park beautiful and decides who can use it is actually this for-profit development group, and their enormously profitable 1400-car garage is exempt from City property taxes, enjoying a tax break about ten times the amount of the park’s maintenance costs.

“While you ponder those troubling facts, don’t plan a protest: free speech and free assembly are prohibited in the park. Private surveillance cameras surround the park, and parents playing ball with a child, casual musicians, citizens collecting political signatures or distributing political information, groups of visitors, people wielding cameras and persons lying on benches or appearing to be asleep - don’t sit with your eyes closed sunning your face! -- may be asked to leave.

“Sound like something from George Orwell’s 1984? Or maybe you misunderstood and it’s a private garden?

“Nope. Welcome to the "public" Post Office Square Park, operated privately for the enjoyment of, well, desirable people, mainly the employees and clients of the nearby office-tower owners , and customers of the park’s up-scale cafe.

“Boston’s famed Post Office Square Park is a poster-child of public-realm philanthropy. It is a privately managed open space that has vastly enhanced the property values of its founding abutters, who otherwise faced the competition of a new tower on that site. The Park’s creators have won the trust and good will of public officials and city residents, who laud its manicured upkeep. But the City agreement anticipated $300,000 a year in profit-sharing to benefit other parks; none of that has materialized, because Park costs but not garage profits are attributed to the Friends.”