Fellow Chat Travieso, reflects on equity and access to quality public space as part of our Trust by Design campaign. Chat is an artist, designer, and educator who creates participatory, architectural, and research-based projects. His work reinforces social bonds in our public spaces and interrogates the history and policies that have shaped our built environment.

How can we expand access to quality public space? An answer might be to proactively create desirable public parks, plazas, and open green spaces in high-need neighborhoods. However, this seemingly direct solution, while an important step in realizing a more just city, papers over the causes that produced this need to begin with, as well as the fact that parks in low-income neighborhoods in the city’s outer boroughs have smaller maintenance budgets and fewer staff members, and that Black and Brown communities are disproportionately criminalized and subjected to state violence (evidenced by the NYPD’s uneven enforcement of social-distancing rules between white and Black New Yorkers). Moreover, in practice, the development of new parkland (or the improvement of existing public spaces) often exacerbates the cycle of gentrification in these areas. 

So, in addition to distributing parks more equitably, several other steps need to be taken simultaneously to expand access to quality public space more fully and effectively; these include (but are not limited to): 

  • establishing robust mitigating systems that prevent low-income communities of color from being displaced (like building permanent affordable housing, supporting existing small businesses, expanding rent control, and passing stronger tenant protection laws)
  • ending resource hoarding in high-income neighborhoods so that funds can be allocated more fairly throughout the city 
  • instituting programs that aggressively desegregate majority white communities 
  • disinvesting from the carceral state and implementing alternatives to policing that allow all New Yorkers to enjoy any public space without the threat of police harassment and racist double standards.