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On the Importance of Public Spaces on Grounds at the University of Virginia (Nov 23, 2015)


By Sophie Trawalter, Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Psychology Email

Across the country, wealthy donors and philanthropists are funding public spaces. In New York City, for instance, a wealthy donor is underwriting a new public park in Chelsea. Commentators have noted that the plan for the park includes amphitheaters and gardens—amenities for wealthy patrons who do not need parks for exercise, family gatherings, and other social functions. In Philadelphia, philanthropists are redeveloping the riverfront; in Houston, a green corridor. In Tulsa, a billionaire is financing an entire park system. In Salt Lake City, the Church of Latter-Day Saints purchased a block of the downtown. And across the United States, commercial spaces such as shopping malls are replacing public spaces such as town squares. The poor and the middle class will not be denied access to these spaces, of course, but one might wonder whether these spaces will feel welcoming to the poor and middle class. One might worry that these spaces will become “playgrounds for the rich,” leaving the poor and middle class feeling like spectators or, worse, trespassers.

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