Cities are of designed for entrance and exit, and as places to work. This is good for the commuter, but often not so good for city residents, who often report feeling awash in a sea of concrete and asphalt. Burden says that by starting with people, their public spaces, and the way they use them (or not), cities can be made much more of a contributor to residents’ health and mental comfort. See if you agree with her.

Why you should listen:

With a keen eye for detail that extends to the most humble park bench — and a gift for convincing developers and bureaucrats of her vision — former New York City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden rebuilt New York City.

Who is she:

Taking inspiration from her mentor, the influential urban theorist William H. “Holly” Whyte, Burden stepped out of the society pages (she’s Babe Paley’s daughter) and into a high-profile development career, which started with the planning and design of Battery Park and brought her to the Bloomberg administration. Her high design standards and flair for human-scale public spaces (as she told the Wall Street Journal, “You can actually change a city by a small stroke”) ensures that her legacy will be an enduring element of New York’s urban landscape. Post-mayoralty, she is joining Mike Bloomberg’s newly established global consultancy, Bloomberg Associates, as one of the founding Principals (along with Janette Sadik-Khan, former traffic commissioner).


  1. Burden started from the lessons she learned at a park developed by her stepfather, which was well used, peaceful and flexible. Who was her other influence?
  1. She says that spaces around public architecture are often used as a plinth for the buildings. What does she mean by this?
  1. She says that open spaces are opportunities for commercial development, or the common good. Can you think of an example of this conflict from your own life?
  1. In the development of New York, she helped create a city which could fit a million new residents none of whom would have to own a car. What is important about this?
  1. If Burden created new neighborhoods where people didn’t need cars, what did this mean about parks and other public spaces?
  1. “A city has to take the long view; the view for the common good.” Explain to someone you belief about the conflict of commercial interests and the common good. Has this changed as a result of what Burden says?

How public spaces make cities work with Amanda Burden


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