Research /

Urban development

Private ends to public means: a comparative study of global cities

What role and responsibilites do private developers have in shaping the fabric of the city?

by Alfredo Caraballo & Daniel Elsea

Over 2019, in their role as co-chairs of the International Council of the Van Alen Institute, Alfredo Caraballo and Daniel Elsea helped instigate a comparative research project on the role of the private sector in delivering public goods, comparing initially the experiences of London and New York.

As cities seek imagintive solutions to manage growth and intensification, the role of private development in masterplanning large swaths of the city is an increasing trend. We are interested to uncover the how different cities are grappling with this issue, identifying best practice while also facilitating exchange between cities.

London: from King's Cross to the Olympic Legacy

We helped to shape the spring 2019 trip of the Council to London, a city which has long been shaped by private interests, a legacy with roots in the aristocratic Great Estates which continue to own much of central London today. The Council visited one of these, the Bedford Estate, one of the principle landowers in Bloomsbury. King's Cross was then looked at as a contemporary case study, as an example of a developer taking a long-term view towards the management of their urban estate. The group explored the impact of King's Cross' regeneration on the neighbouring area of Somers Town. A second day focused on east London and the wider impact of the Olympic Legacy, exploring the Park itself as well as Hackney Wick, Fish Island and Sugarhouse Island. The group was hosted the by Bartlett Real Estate Institute and LSE Cities.

Read more on the Council visit here and a podcast with Alfredo and Bob Allies about the lessons for King's Cross with Monocle's The Urbanist.

New York: from Brooklyn to Hudson Yards

With the lessons of London’s approach to benefits and tradeoffs, the Council continued their exploration in New York City in the autumn 2019. The exploration focused on Brooklyn, in particular the neighbourhoods of Downtown Brooklyn and Sunset Park. The last day included a learning tour of Hudson Yards, the mega-development in Manhattan. Like their London counterparts, these places are being shaped by significant masterplans. Read more on the New York visit here.

The Van Alen Institute is a New York-based charity that researches, organises design competitions and conducts public programming in the field of urban design. The Council is a group of practices which add a global dimension to the Institute’s programming, providing advice and content to Van Alen’s New York-based team. Additionally, it convenes two workshops a year in different cities in the world to identify and explore urban challenges in those cities, offering implementable design strategies.