Instructor: Stephan Schmidt, Cornell  University


    A primary research focus of mine concerns the social and political context of urban design and the built environment, in particular urban public spaces. Increasingly, city governments are reliant on the private sector in order to provide adequate publicly accessible space. However, the private provision of public space is often criticized as restricting social interaction, constraining individual liberties, and unjustly excluding certain populations. 

In an article for the Journal of the American Planning Association, my co-author (Jeremy Nemeth from University of Colorado at Denver) and I develop an empirical index that quantifies the degree to which a space is controlling of use, access, and behavior and therefore contrary to normative goals of access and inclusion. The index consists of twenty separate indicators gauging everything from a space’s legal or access restrictions to the intensity of surveillance and policing measures.This work was consequently followed up upon in an article published in Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, in which we apply the index to a number of publicly owned and privately owned public spaces. We found that the use of the private sector to provide publicly accessible space leads to increased control over use, behavior and access. Furthermore, while both publicly and privately owned public spaces tend to equally encourage public use and access, managers of privately owned spaces tend to employ more features that control behavior within those spaces.

More recently, in an article published in Urban Design International, we examine how the changing regulatory environment in New York City has impacted the design and management of privately owned public space. We find that compared with pre-reform spaces, post-reform spaces encourage use through the introduction of design features (such as the provision of seating and lighting) and increased signage (ie the inclusion of a sign indicating public space), but discourage, or are more controlling of use, by decreasing accessibility of the space and increasing the amount of subjective rules and laws. This research was supported through a seed grant from the Cornell Institute for Social Sciences, which helped fund a user perception survey of privately owned public spaces in New York to gauge user comfort with public space and perceptions of security within public space.

In addition to these efforts, I have also advanced this line of research through other means. I helped organize a pre-arranged session at the 2009 ACSP conference in Washington DC on the role of the planner in public space provisions at which a number of invited speakers presented papers. The session, entitled “Public spaces and the role of the planner” formed the basis for a special guest edited issue of the Journal of Urban Design entitled “The production of public space” (November 2010) that I co-edited.

More recently (2012), we have a contract with APA Press to write a practitioner oriented book concerning the privatization of public space provision.



Stephan Schmidt Associate Professor
Department of City and Regional Planning

Cornell University

201 West Sibley Hall
Ithaca, NY, 14853