The Design Observer Group


Posted 12.07.11


Places Editors

Public and Private



Left: 1937 poster for the U.S. Rural Electricification Administration. [Silkscreen by Lester Beall] Right: High-speed rail in China. [Photo by Dawei Pang] Bottom: Pubnico Point wind farm, Nova Scotia, Canada. [Photo by Dennis Jarvis]

Places Journal seeks articles that explore the complex dynamic of public and private in contemporary politics and culture, and how this dynamic influences the design and production of buildings, landscapes and cities. 

This is a large topic, indeed one of the central issues of our time. In the past generation we witnessed a fundamental realignment, as the era of Roosevelt and the New Deal, with its broad-based confidence in the balance of public responsibility and private enterprise, gave way to the age of Reagan, with its faith in unfettered markets and limited government. 

In recent years it's become clear that the commitment to public works has dramatically constricted just as electoral politics and congressional debate have come to revolve around the role of government.

The collapse of the housing market has brought home the risks of deregulation; rising homelessness has stressed the social safety net. Faltering efforts to rebuild post-disaster New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico have exposed the fallout from public disinvestment in urban and environmental infrastructures. Growing opposition to natural gas pipelines and hydraulic fracturing ("no fracking way") has unified water-drinking citizens across party lines, underscoring the perils of an energy portfolio dominated by fossil fuels. 

2011 dawned with the Arab Spring and ended with Occupy Wall Street; in 2012 a protracted presidential campaign awakened U.S. citizens to the increasing influence of a small cohort of the ultra-rich on electoral politics. Meanwhile we are witnessing new challenges to the economic liberalism that prevailed for decades, an intensifying awareness of the consequences of privatization — and the dictates of austerity — in the United States and around the globe. This meta-question of public and private remains at the center of discussion in democratic countries. 

How will we confront the large-scale social and environmental challenges that define our century? To what extent will public entities in New York and San Francisco and Miami address the threat of rising seas? How will Los Angeles and Phoenix and Las Vegas adapt to the likelihood of long-term drought? Will the federal government sanction construction of a continental network of gas pipelines, or redouble the commitment to renewables? Will we retrofit our auto-centric suburbs to reduce energy demand? What can the United States learn from other nations? 

How might the environmental design professions respond most effectively to these challenges? 

At Places we want to analyze these matters via diverse disciplines and from multiple perspectives, including design, policy, planning, geography, history, theory, etc. 

Editorial Guidelines:We welcome proposals or finished manuscripts. For more information, please read our Submissions page.  

Schedule: This is an open call with no time limit. We will publish work on a continual basis, with the goal of spurring ongoing debate and discussion about the dynamic of public and private in contemporary culture and the challenges for architecture, landscape architecture and urbanism.