Privately owned public space
The term privately owned public space (POPS) refers to spaces that, although privately owned, are legally required by a city’s zoning ordinance (or similar land-use regulatory law) to be usable by the public. In most of these cases, cities grant valuable zoning concessions to developers of office and residential high rises if they agree to include privately owned public spaces at or in their buildings. Common physical categories of privately owned public space are plazas, arcades, through block arcades, small parks, and atriums. Privately owned public spaces exist in many cities worldwide, including New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, Seoul, and Toronto. Some cities or advocacy groups have created websites about these spaces (see, for example, apops.mas.org.).
Although the term privately owned public space was popularized by the 2000 book Privately Owned Public Space: The New York City Experience (Wiley 2000), written by Harvard professor Jerold S. Kayden in collaboration with the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP), and the Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS), the history of privately owned public space commenced decades earlier when New York City introduced an incentive zoning mechanism in 1961 offering developers the right to build 10 bonus square feet of rentable or sellable floor area in return for one square foot of plaza, and three square feet of bonus floor area in return for one square foot of arcade [Kayden et al., 2000]. Between 1961 and 2000, 503 privately owned public spaces, scattered primarily in downtown, midtown, and upper east and west sides of New York City’s borough of Manhattan, were constructed at 320 buildings. More spaces have been added since then. The book noted the quantitative success of the program’s public space production, but found that 41% of those spaces were of “marginal” quality and roughly 50% of buildings with spaces had one or more apparently out of compliance with applicable legal requirements resulting in privatization.
While “privately owned public space” as a term of art refers specifically to private property usable by the public under zoning or similar regulatory arrangements, the phrase in its broadest sense can refer to places, like shopping malls and hotel lobbies, that are privately owned and open to the public, even if they are not legally required to accept the public.
Kayden, Jerold S., The New York City Department of City Planning, and The Municipal Art Society of New York. Privately Owned Public Space: The New York City Experience. New York: Wiley, 2000.
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