Workplace + Public Realm: Jurisdictional Dynamics

Workplace + Public Realm: Jurisdictional Dynamics

In its creation, the built environment is subject to significant Jurisdictional Dynamics that influence the success of a place. The development process—a balancing act between Market Forces and Public Policy/Land Use—works itself out through jurisdictions. Governments and institutions use the tools at their disposal (the carrot and the stick) to influence the ways in which private development and the public realm interface, and the extent to which that interface serves both public and private interests.

While the development process can present as a tug of war between the desires of a builder looking to satisfy economic objectives and the requirements of a planning process intended to serve the greater good, ideally jurisdictional dynamics work to mutual benefit. This is the hope of the Public Mesh—improving the quality of both the workplace and the public realm—and it requires cooperation from both sides of the equation. 

However, given the unique combination of market forces, public policy/land use and the idiosyncrasies of any one location, jurisdictional dynamics will continue to pose both opportunities and challenges to the creation of the Public Mesh. For exmaple, market forces which are pushing workplace development towards the notion of “space as product” (e.g. coworking spaces) could result in a much different, and more fluid, density of workplace within a district than which was originally planned. This example has the potential for both positive and negative impacts upon the public realm: more people means more business, but also a greater pressure on transit networks and housing. On the other hand, public policy/land use can be used to incentivize private investment in the public realm, but what is the right kind of incentive? Should market forces be allowed to determine the character and use of public space? 

The student work included in this chapter illustrates several aspects of the core tension between market forces and public policy/land use, and the ways in which jurisdictional dynamics incorporate: 

Innovation: New ideas that provoke adaptation from the workplace or from the public realm
Public Interest: Development that promotes the public good through inclusivity and access
Incentives: Sustainable policy incentives that serve both public/private interests

Many of the students, in exploring jurisdictional dynamics, proposed public-private partnerships, or their work pointed to the need for intensive cooperation between public and private. All tried to answer the question of how to act in the public’s best interest while supporting the landscape of work. 


The public-private partnership offers, perhaps, the best opportunity for and worst threat to public life. Inclusivity and diversity are at the heart of civic life in the United States—a position that must be upheld, even when it is less than convenient. The complication of public-private partnerships is that private entities often want recognition that is at odds with the vision of a public space, welcoming to all—would a Trump Plaza welcome protestors from Black Lives Matter? The need to control image can be at odds with the mandate that public space be accessible and inclusive, the place of free speech. 

For the Public Mesh to succeed, a balance must be struck between the bottom-line result of market forces and the for-the-greater-good intentions of public policy / land use. Jurisdictional dynamics must bring innovation, public interest and incentives into alignment—no small feat. The institutions, companies and jurisdictions that do it right will attract knowledge workers. 

Civic engagement, having languished in the late 20th century, is coming back to life and will continue to do so. While the Public Mesh brings with it many unresolved complications, the notion that changes in work and workplace might reinvigorate the public realm is nothing short of exciting. As workplace and the public realm merge, how do people interact with this new space? New understandings of the role of space and being in public will need to be brought forth in order for the changing role of work in public life to be successful. 

This is the fifth post of a seven part series tied to our recent publication, Workplace + Public Realm, which follows a yearlong research studio with Stanford University and Northeastern University. You can read the introduction here