Ideas + Action 2020: Public Space

11:00 a.m. | Tuesday, October 6, 2020



Beginning October 5, 2020 | Virtual


The pandemic crisis, combined with the recent movements for racial justice, have challenged our accepted notions of how public space is designed and used — and for whom. These issues have brought to the forefront the critical understanding that public spaces such as parks, sidewalks and trails are not just amenities; they are intrinsically essential to our personal, social and civic wellbeing. This October, SPUR is hosting 'Ideas + Action 2020: Public Space', a weeklong series of conversations with experts from around North America about the past, present and future of public space in our cities.

Sessions include:

  • Opening keynote by Mitchell J. Silver, New York City Parks Commissioner
  • How We Use Urban Public Space
  • How to Create Truly Inclusive Community Engagement
  • Expanding the Definition of Public Space
  • How to Create Sustainable Funding Models for Public Space
  • Who Are Streets Designed For?
  • Viewing Public Space Through an Equity Lens
  • How to Provide Equitable, 10-Minute Park Access to Everyone
  • What Does Public Space Look Like in a Post-Pandemic World?
  • and more...


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12:30–1:30 p.m.:  Opening Keynote

(free for the public)

Kick off Ideas + Action 2020: Public Space with our keynote speaker Mitchell J. Silver, the commissioner of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. One of Planetizen’s "100 Most Influential Urbanists" and hailed by Mayor Bill de Blasio as "a visionary," Commissioner Silver oversees the management, planning and operations of nearly 30,000 acres of public space across the five boroughs, including parks, playgrounds, beaches, marinas recreation centers, wilderness areas and other assets. Come hear his take on the role of public space in our cities, how New York City is working to ensure equitable park access while accommodating the evolution of its neighborhoods, what the pandemic has shown about the value urban public space and much more.

  • Mitchell J. Silver / Commissioner, New York City Department of Parks and Recreation 


5–6 p.m.:  How We Use Urban Public Space

(panel discussion; free for the public)

The public spaces found throughout our cities have long been a crucial component of the urban fabric, acting as a confluence of urban design and architecture, art and culture, dialogue and politics. Streets, plazas, roads and parks not only provide texture to our neighborhoods, they are the spaces that we use to traverse a city, commune with our loved ones, and assert our ideologies. They intertwine with democracy, providing the stage from where our greatest debates and protests begin. For the opening panel of ‘Ideas + Action 2020: Public Space,’ we’ll explore the role that urban public space plays in our lives and how that role has evolved over time, and hear about places that we can both aspire to and learn from.

  • Mimi Zeiger / Critic, Editor and Curator
  • Chelina Odbert / Co-Founder and Executive Director, Kounkuey Design Initiative
  • Liz Ogbu / Founder and Principal, Studio O
  • Antonio Gómez-Palacio / Principal of Planning & Urban Design, DIALOG




10–11 a.m.:  Networking Session

(free for the public)

Come meet other Ideas + Action attendees and discuss the day's discussion topics through multiple rounds of networking sessions.


3–4 p.m.:  How to Create Truly Inclusive Community Engagement

(technical session; $35; limit 25)

For far too long, many cities have relied on a top-down approach to creating projects and plans. Even in places where community engagement is required, this process is often considered an obstruction and is executed poorly or insincerely, with residents asked to comment on outcomes that are all-but-decided. However, when given the space, time and resources to collaborate, an engaged community can become a powerful ally. After years of mistrust between the city and its residents, Detroit has emerged as one of the country’s leading practitioners of transparent, empowering community engagement, actively working with its residents to shape the city’s future. In this RSVP-only technical session designed exclusively for practitioners, hear what is working in Detroit and learn about the critical tools and practical lessons that you can apply to your own work in order to create a truly inclusive community engagement strategy.

  • Alexa Bush / Design Director, City of Detroit


5–6 p.m.:  Expanding the Definition of Public Space

(panel discussion; free for the public)

Public space is typically defined as a physical space that is open and accessible to people. Parks, sidewalks, plazas, beaches and, though often forgotten as being part of the public realm, even streets all fall under this umbrella term. But is there room for another definition? Can some public space exist beyond the confines of ownership, physical space and even time itself? Can a public space be simultaneously experienced by a single person traveling around the world and a million people in their homes? And does it count if public space can only be experienced through earbuds, a computer screen or even an imagination? Join us to examine the very definition of public space itself as we break down the orthodoxy of what could, and should, be included under that label.

  • Bryant Tan / City Planning + Placement Manager, Burning Man Project
  • Janet Delaney / Photographer and 2020 Guggenheim Fellow
  • Joshua Edmonds / Director of Digital Inclusion, City of Detroit
  • Avery Trufelman / Host, Curbed's 'NiceTry!' and New York Magazine's 'The Cut'




10–11 a.m.:  How to Create Sustainable Funding Models for Public Space

(technical session; $35; limit 25)

Attracting an estimated eight million visitors each year, New York City’s The High Line has become one of the most successful new public spaces in the country. More than two decades after its founding, Friends of the High Line, the organization that spearheaded the redevelopment of the former railroad viaduct, continues to oversee the park’s funding, operation, programming and maintenance. With nearly all of the park’s budget coming from donors, the group is responsible for soliciting millions of dollars in funds annually through one-time donations, memberships, plant adoption, benefit events and more. In this RSVP-only technical session designed exclusively for practitioners, learn about The High Line’s operating costs and funding strategies, and the lessons that can be applied to your own efforts to establish sustainable funding models for public space.

  • Robert Hammond / Executive Director, Friends of the High Line


12:30–1:30 p.m.:  Who Are Streets Designed For?

(panel discussion; free for the public)

Earlier this year, as Americans grappled with the ramifications of the pandemic, slowly coming to terms with its seemingly ineffable and inescapable impact on how we live and work, cities around the world began closing streets to automobile traffic in an effort to provide increased opportunities for physically-distanced recreation. The cities that took the first step — such as Oakland, with its plan to temporarily close nearly 10% of its street network — were no sooner applauded for their initiative than faced with criticisms. While the intention was admirable, critics argued that the execution exacerbated a longstanding lack of inclusivity in the planning processes and a negligence of the inequities long endemic to urban street design. How can a city complete “quick-build” projects like slow streets, especially in times of crisis, without forgoing participatory decision-making? Can the process, and the end result, accommodate all users? Join us for an exploration of the challenges that exist when the accepted status quo for street design has been molded by generations of racism and implicit bias, and the fundamental ways that we can explode convention and build streets designed by, and for, everyone.

  • Shin-Pei Tsay / Director of Policy, Cities and Transportation, Uber
  • Warren Logan / Policy Director of Mobility and Interagency Relations, Oakland Mayor’s Office
  • James Rojas / Founder, PlaceIt!
  • Tamika Butler / Principal, Tamika L. Butler Consulting
  • Nidhi Gulati / Senior Director of Programs & Projects, Project for Public Spaces


3–4 p.m.:  Networking Session

(free for the public)

Come meet other Ideas + Action attendees and discuss the day's discussion topics through multiple rounds of networking sessions.




10–11 a.m.:  Networking Session

(free for the public)

Come meet other Ideas + Action attendees and discuss the day's discussion topics through multiple rounds of networking sessions.


12:30–1:30 p.m.:  Viewing Public Space Through an Equity Lens

(panel discussion; free for the public)

A majority of the public spaces found throughout American cities have been designed by generations of predominantly white, male professionals. From streets to parks, these spaces were often created for a monolithic, typically white, user. As cities grow, densify and diversify, however, a public space designed for one group might not be as celebrated by, or safe for, another. But viewing the design and stewardship of public space through an equity lens requires far more than convening a community meeting, erecting a monument or swapping a baseball field for a cricket pitch. Join us to investigate the complicated relationship between public space and equity as panelists discuss the myriad of ways in which communities use, program and maintain public spaces, the reactions that result and how our cities need to rethink existing design practices to offer agency and ownership for all users.

  • Carolyn Finney / Author, Black Faces, White Spaces
  • Chantel Rush / Managing Director, The Kresge Foundation's American Cities Program
  • Kofi Boone / Professor of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, NC State University
  • Lisa Cholmondeley / Principal, Gensler
  • Manuel Pastor / Director, Program for Environmental and Regional Equity at University of Southern California


3–4 p.m.:  How to Provide Equitable, 10-Minute Park Access to Everyone

(technical session; $35; limit 25)

In 2017, San Francisco became the first and only city in the country to provide all residents with access to at least one park within a 10-minute walk of their homes. The effort — a seismic accomplishment for the city — was many years and millions of dollars in the making. In this RSVP-only technical session designed exclusively for practitioners, learn about the processes that the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department undertook to achieve this milestone, how the initiative enabled the department to operationalize its equity goals, the challenges to creating new public spaces in a city where land is at a premium and the practical lessons that you can apply to your own work in providing inclusive park access.

  • Stacy Radine Bradley / Deputy Director of Planning, San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department




12:30–1:30 p.m.:  What Does Public Space Look Like in a Post-Pandemic World?

(panel discussion; free for the public)

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a reevaluation of how we experience the world around us. Indoor spaces that were once cherished as intimate and comfortable are now anathema to our physically-distanced lifestyles, and even our enjoyment of outdoor spaces is done so through the accepted protection of invisible bubbles with a six-foot radius — or, in the case of many urban parks — spray-painted rings arrayed across grassy lawns. Will these spaces ever return to “normal,” or will this new reality become the status quo? In the final panel for ‘Ideas + Action 2020: Public Space,’ join us for a design-centric conversation examining the ramifications of COVID-19 on how we utilize and redesign our public spaces, and how we can prioritize and design new spaces that can that can better respond to future impacts, such as pandemics and climate change.

  • Mayra Madriz / Director and Team Lead, Gehl
  • Scott Kratz / Vice President, Building Bridges Across the River
  • Daphne Lundi / Senior Policy Advisor, New York City Mayor's Office of Resiliency
  • Carol Coletta / President and CEO, Memphis River Parks Partnership


3–3:30 p.m.:  Closing Keynote

(free for the public)

Cap off the week of Ideas + Action programming with an inspiring keynote from SPUR's president and CEO, Alicia John-Baptiste. Join us to hear a summary of what we learned — and where we go next.

  • Alicia John-Baptiste / President and CEO, SPUR



Register >>



For information about sponsoring Ideas + Action 2020: Public Space please contact Amanda Fasenmyer at


Refund Policy

Individual ticket purchases. If you request a refund between 2 and 10 business days prior to the event, SPUR can issue a 25 percent refund. Requests for refunds received less than 2 days prior to an event cannot be accommodated.

Sponsorship payments will not be refunded, as sponsorship benefits take effect immediately and are on-going through the date of the event.

Auxiliary Services

If, in order to participate in a SPUR event, you need auxiliary aids or services for a disability (e.g., qualified interpreter, qualified reader, written materials, taped texts) please submit your request five business days before the event to or 415-781-8726 x132. SPUR will work with you in identifying effective auxiliary aids or services that it can provide. If you need to cancel your request, please notify SPUR at least two business days before the event.

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