Section 4.1

Enhancing the City’s Approach to Public Space Management

Goals for City Leadership
As public spaces in commercial districts increasingly become important places to build place identity and marketplace differentiation, the City of New York will need to adapt its regulatory structures, programs, and policies to lower barriers to public participation in, and management of, the public realm, particularly in under-resourced neighborhoods. The City’s response to the pandemic, with new programs like Open Streets, Open Restaurants, Open Culture, and Open Storefronts, allowed for regulatory flexibility and reduced some previous barriers to participation. However, these programs were launched quickly to address public health concerns around indoor activities, resulting in a piecemeal roll out across neighborhoods. They also relied heavily on volunteer stewardship, making them most successful in already well-resourced communities. Looking ahead, the City needs to create cohesive systems for managing these spaces so that communities can enjoy a greater level of access and engagement for years to come.

The following principles emerged as priorities to guide recommendations for enhancing the City’s approach to public space management.


Prioritize user experience and establish clear and transparent regulatory processes that lower barriers to participation. 


Foster new and long-term coordination across city agencies that inform the design and use of the public realm.


Ensure inclusive design of programs and policies with technical assistance and financial resources for lower-resourced neighborhoods. 


Create more opportunities for collaboration and communication between city agencies and local partners


Support commerce and entrepreneurship in the public realm.

The following recommendations combine a mix of policies and programs that the City of New York, with its partners and stakeholders, should consider prioritizing to achieve the previously identified public space management goals.


Appoint an interagency “Public Realm Working Group” that owns the “start” button for application processes and serves as overall program administrator.
︎ A  ︎ B  ︎ C  ︎ D  ︎ E
Create unified digital and analog public space permit application processes across
multiple languages.
︎ A  ︎ B  ︎ C  ︎ D  ︎ E

Give power to applicants to self-certify/self-declare on public realm activation permit applications, where appropriate.
︎ A  ︎ B  ︎ C  ︎ D  ︎ E
Use pay-scale systems or fee structures and establish insurance waivers based on areas of need.
︎ A  ︎ B  ︎ C  ︎ D  ︎ E

Provide a pre-approved list of local on-call technical assistance providers and equipment/furniture vendors.
︎ A  ︎ B  ︎ C  ︎ D  ︎ E
Establish a public realm activation grant and public realm design guidelines.
︎ A  ︎ B  ︎ C  ︎ D  ︎ E

Match public space maintenance and programming crowdfunding efforts set up by local organizations.
︎ A  ︎ B  ︎ C  ︎ D  ︎ E
Develop a self-sustaining Open Street funding model by creating a template license agreement that may be entered into between an approved “Open Street Partner Organization” and the City of New York.
︎ A  ︎ B  ︎ C  ︎ D  ︎ E

Expand year-round cleaning support on City-owned plazas.
︎ A  ︎ B  ︎ C  ︎ D  ︎ E
Allow and encourage local organizations to apply for public realm activation permits as coalitions of community partners.
︎ A  ︎ B  ︎ C  ︎ D  ︎ E

Create community outreach and engagement resources and training for place-based organizations supporting the management and activation of the public realm.
︎ A  ︎ B  ︎ C  ︎ D  ︎ E
Identify neighborhood/district Open Street representatives to oversee in-person and on-the-ground outreach.
︎ A  ︎ B  ︎ C  ︎ D  ︎ E

Create guidelines and programs for licensed street vendors in the activation of the public realm.
︎ A  ︎ B  ︎ C  ︎ D  ︎ E
Establish a city-wide permit and technical assistance program for retail experiential markets.
︎ A  ︎ B  ︎ C  ︎ D  ︎ E

Make Open Storefronts a permanent City program.
︎ A  ︎ B  ︎ C  ︎ D  ︎ E

How To Read Each Recommendation
The sample rubric shown here was used to develop each recommendation/action in detail.


A general action-oriented statement


︎ Process/Regulatory Framework  ︎ Funding  ︎ Technical Assistance


A challenge or opportunity identified by stakeholders and through proceeding research on the City’s regulatory framework.

Who Gets it Done/Which City Program

A list of potential public/nonprofit/private sector entities and individuals whose leadership, support, and cooperation are critical to successful implementation of the recommendation,  plus their potential roles.

How to Implement

Early steps and actions that should be taken to implement the recommendation.

Case Study

Descriptions of projects similar to the one being proposed. Examples may be local, regional, or national.

Who Does this Help

Groups and individuals who may benefit from the implementation of the recommendation.

Types of Public
Space(s) Impacted

︎ Street  ︎ Sidewalk  ︎ Plaza