1. Appoint an interagency “Public Realm Working Group” that owns the “Start” button for application processes and serves as overall program administrator for public realm programs.

This one-stop destination, or executive office, should oversee all permit and regulatory processes associated with the public realm, and should comprise representatives from each of the following agencies: The Department of Transportation, The Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, The Department of Small Business Services, The Mayor’s Office of Street Activity and Permit Office, The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, The Department of Parks and Recreation, The Department of Cultural Affairs, The Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, The Department of Sanitation, The New York Police Department, and The New York Fire Department.

Stakeholders involved in the management and activation of different types of public spaces (plazas, streets, and sidewalks) in commercial districts unanimously shared concerns around limited interagency coordination, which often impacts permit application and approval processes. There are a myriad of city agencies which all have jurisdiction over our public realm. This, in turn, impacts the frequency and scale of activations and events that can occur in the public realm due to the limited time and resources that smaller CBOs are able to dedicate to navigating regulatory processes.

Currently, the use of the public realm requires an individual or organization to reach out to at least three different city agencies to procure appropriate licenses and permits. Each agency requires the completion of its own sets of forms, insurance and professional license requirements, and fees across a mix of digital and analog processes.

The Public Realm Working Group would streamline these permitting processes by being a one-stop-shop for all permits related to our public spaces. Rather than siloing each agency, this would allow for open communication and coordination across city agencies. The cooperation between agencies would create leadership from the City to look at our public spaces holistically and not on a program-by-program basis.
︎ A User Experience
︎ B Long-Term Coordination
︎ C Inclusive Design
︎ D Collaboration and Communication
︎ E Support commerce and entrepreneurship

︎ Process / Regulatory Framework
︎ Funding
︎ Technical Assistance

The Chinatown Partnership (“the Partnership”) provided significant support to its business stakeholders early in the pandemic by leading the establishment and management of Open Streets and fundraising for any additional furniture and resources required to maintain the large scale of outdoor dining activities in the district.

Through this process, the Partnership endured rapidly changing regulations around open restaurants and Open Streets.

“At first, outdoor dining arrangements didn’t need to have continuous barriers between road traffic and seating but that got adjusted mid-way through the program.”
Wellington Chen, Executive Director of Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation

While the self-certification process was reportedly helpful, the Partnership shared that City regulations remain difficult to comply with and there is a critical need for a “one-stop czar office to consolidate different agencies” overseeing the management and use of the public realm.

“We should streamline and integrate the process under a much simpler process. Right now, quoting an official, it requires more than 70 stops for different authorization and permits in order to open a restaurant in NYC. Coordination with all the different agencies and stakeholders would make life much easier for everyone involved.”
Wellington Chen, Executive Director of Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation.

HOW TO IMPLEMENT To encourage the use and management of our public realm by local groups and stakeholders, the City would need to create a one-stop destination, or executive office, that oversees all permit and regulatory processes associated with the public realm. This executive office should comprise representatives from each of the following agencies: DOT, DCWP, SBS, SAPO, DOHMH, DCLA, Parks, NYPD, NYFD, and Sanitation.

The first monumental effort by the Public Realm Working Group should consist of the creation of an interagency workflow chart(including designating a lead agency to start each potential workflow/public realm activation/management scenario) and a standard operating procedure manual for communication between agencies. The workflow chart should be published on the City’s website (across all agency permit application pages) to begin externally communicating the new ways in which agencies are working together. In addition, the Public Realm Working Group should conduct outreach to CBOs(including but not limited to plaza partners, BIDs, CDCs, and community organizations that have previously applied for public realm permits) to inform them of the changing workflows across agencies as they relate to public realm activation.

Case Study ︎︎︎  Case Study ︎︎︎  Case Study ︎︎︎  

︎ Josh Wilburne

Streets Cabinet

City of Boston, MA

The mission of the Streets Cabinet, a Mayoral office in the City of Boston, is to “innovate, develop, implement, support and manage all programs, projects and policies that enhance clean, well-lit, attractive and efficient infrastructure that moves vehicular and pedestrian traffic safely.” Overseeing five key City agencies—Boston Bikes, Parking, Public Works, and Transportation—the Cabinet and its Public Realm Director leads the implementation of Boston’s Tactical Public Realm Guidelines.

This case study was previously published in the Municipal Arts Society’s policy brief “A Public Champion for the Public Realm.” ︎︎︎ Read the report for more information.

Key benefactors of this recommendation include local businesses and community organizations that have, for years, had to navigate regulatory processes across numerous city agencies using their own time and resources to expand programming and sales in the public realm.