Research Urban sustainability

Parks, an Essential Component of Urban Regeneration

, by Andrea Costa
A new report by Bocconi’s SUR Lab defines the business models and the conditions under which parks can create community value

Urban parks provide a wealth of benefits, and effectively managing them can significantly enhance these benefits. Urban parks can be implemented and managed through various business model archetypes, categorized broadly into discretionary and regulated types. These models involve different combinations of stakeholders and funding mechanisms, tailored to the specific needs and contexts of urban settings. The recent position paper “Business Models for Urban Park Implementation and Management” by Bocconi’s Sustainable Urban Regeneration Lab (SUR Lab) highlights essential strategies and frameworks to optimize their creation and upkeep. The report was recently presented by SUR Lab director Edoardo Croci and research fellow Benedetta Lucchitta during a workshop at Bocconi. 

Urban parks are critical for enhancing social, economic, and environmental sustainability in cities. They provide recreational spaces, improve air quality, protect biodiversity and contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation. However, traditional public funding for parks is often insufficient, necessitating innovative business models that involve multiple stakeholders, including public entities, private companies, and non-profit organizations.

The SUR Lab study identifies two main archetypes for business models in urban park implementation: discretionary and regulated. Discretionary models rely on voluntary contributions from private or public actors or a combination of both.

When the model is private-led, different private stakeholders voluntary decide to fund, implement and then also to manage an urban park. It includes initiatives where local residents band together to create and maintain neighborhood parks. When the model is public-led, it is driven by public entities that finance and oversee park operations, often with additional support from volunteer work or sponsorships. In public-private partnerships, both public and private actors cooperate, combining resources and expertise to fund and manage parks. 

Regulated business models, on the other hand, involve formal regulatory frameworks or negotiated agreements that engage private actors in park creation and management. Under this category, the compliance model requires private developers to include parks in their urban development plans, funded through developer exactions or other regulatory instruments. In alternative, the negotiated model is based on agreements between public authorities and private actors, where parks are created and managed through collaborative efforts, often involving re-zoning or incentives to encourage private investment.

In all these cases, management of urban parks can be directly performed by the same public or private actors responsible of their implementation or outsourced to third parties such as specialized agencies or NGOs. 

The paper underscores the importance of selecting the right business model based on the specific urban context, stakeholder dynamics, and financial mechanisms available. By adopting these innovative business models, cities can enhance the sustainability and effectiveness of their urban parks, ensuring they continue to provide valuable ecosystem services and recreational opportunities for all residents.

SUR Lab, directed by Professor Edoardo Croci, and operating through an interdisciplinary research team, was created in 2021 to develop and spread knowledge, methods, and best practices about Sustainable Urban Regeneration processes and the ways in which they generate value for the private sector and society in general.

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