People-managed Place is an idea introduced by Robin Gower in an article published by the Journal of Place Management and Development.

The "place management problem" arises because:

  • Together we are stronger (or, that cooperative outcomes often beat competitive ones): the tragedy of the commons and existence of social externalities in our environment;
  • Diverse communities don't tend to share places very well: non-cooperative game theory suggests that we won't share spontaneously;
  • Active place management is inherently difficult: because of the complexity involved Planners are at risk of becoming part of the problem!

The article warns that if opt to "do-nothing" then we face the risk of inaction – standardised places where developers and national retail chains unwittingly reduce our metropolitan areas to a network of clone-towns.  The proposed range of solutions are bottom-up rather than top-down and focus on users not functions:

  • Inter-dependence through trade (the butcher needs the baker and vice versa)
  • Agglomeration Economies & Business Clusters (industrial communities)
  • the Sidewalk Ballet (the eyes of fellow pedestrians make streets safer than CCTV cameras)

Each of these examples demonstrates that place management ought not attempt to zone and plan but to empower individuals and let places evolve organically.  Place managers can deal with the complex socio-economic problems of place by facilitating and regulating a stronger civil society.  The article refers to the similar advice suggested by other authors (such as the New Athens Charter, the principles of intelligent urbanism and Camilo Sitte's belief that plazas and squares are civic rooms that ought to be left open) and provides a brief summary of the relevant UK legislation.   The analysis leads me to make the following recommendations:

  • Start with current place users: i.e. not place functions
  • Consider potential place users: to ensure dynamic sustainability
  • Define place-based rights & responsibilities: to protect place uses (e.g. Anti-Social Behaviour Orders or tradeable pollution permits)
  • Encourage collaboration: through, for example, Business Improvement Districts
  • Cross boundaries and work with your neighbours: zero-sum games are the bane of place-management policy - use partnerships to communicate and negotiate
  • Place Making/ Leadership - internalise externalities: place-manager must make place-users aware of the social costs and benefits (publicise planning gains and declare what supplementary business rates are spent on).

Michael Heller has coined a phrase that describes the problem of multiple and complex claims on a common resource: The Tragedy of the Anti-Commons.  In the video below Professor Heller discusses his book, The Gridlock Economy.