Privatization of municipal public space and access to archival budgetary records

Authors: Naomi Adiv*, University of Toronto
Topics: Urban Geography, Historical Geography
Keywords: archives, municipal finance, public space
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Virginia B, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Privatization has altered the character of municipal public spaces in the past three decades. New forms include conservancies, BIDs, and foundations that are able to raise and direct funds to particular public spaces, outside of the purview of municipal bureaucratic operations. Widely hailed as nimble and trim in their operations, most rely on some combination of corporate sponsorship and philanthropic fundraising in order to support material and programming needs. The literature on public space addresses this shift as it has occurred in construction (Sorkin, Ed., 1992), maintenance (Krinksy and Simonet, 2017) and securitization (Low, 2006; Madden, 2010). As an archival researcher of public space, I confront the challenge of accessing records of these ‘partners’ as they are not subject to the same requirements of transparency in budgetary reporting as municipal agencies. When it comes to getting documents from the private ‘partners’ of public spaces, the researcher depends upon the kindness of management. The challenge of archival research on private or semi-private organizations that hold control over municipal public spaces opens a discussion of how profit-based partners can be held to account for their practices of moving money to and through municipal public spaces. How do they make decisions about the extent of corporate sponsorship and advertising? How are those decisions inscribed into the character of our public spaces? What demands can researchers put on non-state organizations that manage state spaces? Using examples from Portland, Oregon I will present my own experience conducting archival research on public squares and plazas.

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