Public Realm

There is a lack of evidence around the cause and effect of public realm interventions of all types on local economic growth.

Summary

Public realm interventions are popular with policymakers, politicians and citizens alike. These interventions can be important in their own right, and might improve wellbeing for existing residents through creating more pleasant and functional public spaces, but it is also often claimed that they may have wider benefits for the local economy. However, there is a lack of evidence around the cause and effect of public realm interventions of all types on local economic growth. 

The purpose of this policy briefing on Public Realm is to analyse the likely effects of these interventions, focusing on the local economic impacts and drawing on economic theory and the available empirical evidence, as well as any existing survey material. Our aim in doing so is not to provide the final word on the economic effects of such policies, but instead to make the case for the importance of better evaluation in helping understand their local economic impact.

This is important because the evidence available suggests that the economic effect of these policies may differ from what conventional wisdom assumes. 

Lessons

  • Public realm interventions may help create more attractive places to live, but this might lead to higher housing costs and displace existing residents

  • Large-scale public realm interventions may help attract new residents and create mixed communities. But it is unclear that mixed communities deliver significant economic benefits to existing residents

  • Smaller-scale public realm interventions that aim to modestly improve the wellbeing of existing residents are likely to have fewer undesirable or unintended consequences than large-scale, radical transformations

  • Public realm improvements in commercial areas might boost overall business activity but will not necessarily increase jobs or firm profits in the long term, and might also displace existing businesses.

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