The conservancy model
Jérôme Barth (Town Square, placemaking) draws on his experience managing the Bryant Park Conservancy in Manhattan. Delegating the management of the public good to community and private actors is one of the initiatives developed in New York during the financial crisis of the 1970s. Along with social services for the homeless, charter schools and business improvement districts, the conservancies allowed New York to regain its financial freedom and shed its image as a city in crisis and without a future. It became attractive again and positioned itself as a world city.
The conservancy’s business model involves distributing grants to private or community groups who, in exchange, provide a mix of services to a defined geographic area.
This approach focuses on the local scale. It is based on various currents of thought, including that on the governance of the commons, led by Elinor Ostrom. Her work on polycentric governance models demonstrates that it is possible to bring together, within a complex system, a wide variety of actors with divergent or conflicting interests. These models make it possible to offer sustainable solutions, based on consensus and by considering specific contexts.
À New York, une dizaine de partenariats ont été mis en place, de la Greater Jamaica Development Corporation à la High Line.
The Bryant Park Conservancy has resulted in many benefits. It has closed the street furniture gap (umbrellas, tables and chairs, exemplary maintenance of public restrooms, landscaping), reduced public spending, created vibrant spaces, and increased the number of employment opportunities at the site.
This success is due to the prior definition of a common strategy and direction between public and private partners, as well as to the efforts made to ensure that the transfer of skills is well managed.
Having the right people around the table increases the chances of success and defines a common interest in managing the space.
According to the speaker, the conservancy approache would free us from the constraints of public management while offering improved services and infrastructures for the benefit of all. Bryant Park’s tenfold increase in its annual budget and its increase in visitors from 200 000 to 8 million are signs of success.