Private Management of Public Spaces: Nonprofit Organizations and Urban Parks

78 Pages Posted: 6 Feb 2009 Last revised: 28 Sep 2014

Date Written: May 1, 2008


This Article argues that current nonprofit organization theories must be refined to account for the ways in which these organizations take responsibility for public spaces. Nonprofit organizations (“NPOs”) take responsibility in two ways that reduce the cost of monitoring their performance and, consequently, allow them to harness residual demand for the public good of public spaces, helping to create positive outcomes for these spaces. First, NPOs as single entities assume physical responsibility for public space in a way that contrasts strongly with the diffuse accountability of governmental managers and makes their performance easier to monitor. Second, NPOs centralize responsibility for the financial success of the public space in a way that both contrasts strongly with insulated civil servants and reduces the cost of monitoring the attainment of a critical mass of funding for the space. Taking responsibility also places the burden on the NPO, instead of on individuals outside the organization, to compile and communicate information about their operation for monitors. Private managers, therefore, are more accountable for their actions than overnmental managers because they are more responsible and, thus, less costly to monitor. NPOs in Central Park and Bryant Park illustrate these principles.

Keywords: nonprofit organization, Central Park, Bryant Park, business improvement district, conservancy

Suggested Citation

Murray, Michael F., Private Management of Public Spaces: Nonprofit Organizations and Urban Parks (May 1, 2008). Harvard Environmental Law Review, Vol. 34, p. 179, 2010. Available at SSRN:

Michael F. Murray (Contact Author)

Yale University ( email )

New Haven, CT 06520
United States

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