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Public Parks, Private Partners: How Partnerships Are Revitalising Urban Parks - Review

by Andrea Di Giovanni

This book is closely connected with the crisis that affects North America urban parks since Eighties. It somehow marks a decisive turning point in comparison with the twenty years-old decadence process, analysing the phenomenology, identifying the possible causes and building a repository of the possible remedial action.
The parks, without the social and cultural dimensions, become in the last years merely recreational spaces. The contemporary display of a new "urban problems" generation was dealt with by the public administrations, ruling out the parks from the agenda, and banishing them in a marginal and neglected condition. This state of affairs encourages the concentration of the problems in the neglected parks, transforming them from potential resource for the problems solution into a place in which the same problems and the urban uneasiness are concentrated and much more clear. Therefore, the purpose of this book and the work of PPS are the conservation and the reorganisation of the various and articulated components (related to the landscape and to the possible practices) that define the park as an urban place, regaining above all the dimensions of the culture and sociability as a strategy to overcome the banality of the places. This purpose, however, will be possible only taking into due consideration the nature and the working mechanisms of each park. According to this purpose, it is suggested to tend to a singular vision, at the same time very detailed and synthetic, which is characteristic of the local interest groups.
It is above all this one the reason of the private partnership fertility inside redevelopment and management processes of the urban greenery, not only because these organisations might wear out the whole of interests about the park, but rather because they can involve people (not only the residents) that often know how to pay attention and to care about the single park.
A second kind of partnership, generally able to give positive results, is that one which establishes between the non-profit organisation and the public administration. In this sort of partnership the leadership in the process is defined from time to time according to participation, competence and responsibility agreements. Much more remarkable than the problem of the leadership it seems instead important the position of the non-profit (not pre-defined and certainly problematical with respect to the outcome of the process): it will be possible to define from time to time its position into the process (and PPS somehow tries frequently to do this analytical operation!) with respect to an hypothetical axis without solution of continuity that develops between the two edges of management and advocacy.
This last remark recognizes problematically the irreducibility of the two terms that on the one hand describe the kind of relationship between public bodies and private partners, and on the other hand outline the identity and the role of non-profit.
The empirical situations noticed during the research were individually described and placed into a theorical and analytical reference system that consider, in each chapter of the book, the specific roles and the activities of non-profit, the kinds of relationships and of agreements with the public sphere, the organization of agencies and the different sources of fund.
Besides these subjects, which forms the chapters 2, 3, 4, 6, and 7, the first part of the book, dedicated to the style and the contents of the partnership, is completed by some contributes that place the reasons of the approach (chapter 1), that show benefits and drawbacks of master planning (chapter 5) and that show how to build a non-profit parks partnership (chapter 8).
The second, fundamental, part of the book gives the monographs of sixteen partnership organizations that represent only a few, and more important, group within the whole cases that PPS met and studied in its hard works.
Into each part of the book, however, the case studies take a fundamental role, taking up in the first part above one half of the space dedicated to the theorical and analytical treatment.
All the suggestions are clear, straight and very useful, particularly because they have a strong connection with the reality.
Consistently with chosen explanatory strategy, straight and rather immediate, hardly devoid of rhetorical artifice, the frequent use of the picture has above all a "suggestion" role, useful for a straight communication, and the language is always simple and friendly.
This book is the result of an hard and extended research which was draw up by a many people and with a consistent direction. It looks therefore homogeneous and organic as regards the structure and the explanatory style.
It also looks a fundamental guide, made from many professional experiences ordered into an interesting conceptual grid. The "guide" is for everyone takes an interest in parks planning and management both in the public and in the private sector, with different knowledges and interests.
Although planning and management looks sometime irreconcilable, they takes part of the PPS' "minimal" operative strategy.
It has a logic which looks founded on compensation and adaptation and starts from a balance between the current state of the practices and the facilities in the park and the potentiality of the spaces and the society surrounding them. However, the targets will come out from a balance between morphological assets and social practices.
What seems important for our job are above all reading and analysing technical capabilities of physical and social contexts by specific surveys, and also the capabilities of survey targets translation into government actions able to integrate policies and plans into complex strategies composed of basic and sharing actions that has sure feasibility. However, assent and effectiveness are not the primary conditions. They are rather the obvious and frequent consequences of actual grass roots participation and involvement inside the processes. The real participation, therefore, without rhetorical purposes, is only a fundamental methodical requirement that applies to the most problematical and pressing situations. The basic idea is that participation might put into communication (and this seems a particular ability of PPS), articulating the different visions on the park and its surroundings.
This aspect, nevertheless, represents only some of the benefits of participation. Besides, PPS' experience numbers other benefits like identification and appropriation processes of the places by grass roots and local groups involved in parks management. Moreover, this aspect looks a necessary condition for building and reinforcement of communities, so that places were spontaneously used and cared.
Living and caring places are the results of planning and management of possible uses, of unexpected and acceptable displaying of different practices, and of organised or auto-organised events that altogether make park functioning and identity.
After the new social and cultural wealth of the parks' life security is not any more the primary target of specific policies, but rather the virtuous outcome of the different uses and people presence: non-profit Americans experiences pay many attention and manage with care these two items!
All that we said looks really possible only with a full and effective processes participation, without any rhetorical attitude. Consequently it is necessary to recognize authoritativeness and legitimacy to inhabitant non-expert knowledge… as said Kevin Lynch.