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Privately Owned Public Spaces
August 31, 2012 6:31 PM   Subscribe

When is a private space a public space? When it's a Privately Owned Public Space (POPS). In accordance with the planning codes of some cities, owners or builders of buildings are mandated to provide members of the general public access to spaces which include rooftop gardens, courtyards, and plazas.

But how can you find these hidden gems? Here are some treasure maps:

New York City's Privately Owned Public Space guide. There is also a collaborative project which rated NYC's POPs. Probably the best-known POPS in New York City is Zuccotti Park. Each week, OccupyPOPS visits different POPS in NYC. whOWNSpace, anyway?

Pittsburgh is another city where the Occupy movement has occupied a POPS.

The Guardian's list of privatised public spaces in Britain invites additional submissions. Space Hijackers is a British group which speaks out about the use of space and free speech rights.

San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) points out some Secrets of San Francisco: Where to find our city's POPOS (privately owned public open spaces).

The Planning Commission of the City and County of San Francisco has recently mandated an improvement in signage for POPOS, which are often obscurely indicated (an example is the rooftop of the Westfield Mall, which is accessible from only one elevator of a bank of four which is found through an door distinct from the entrance of the mall itself.)

In 2006/07 a project called Commonspace by Rebar Art & Design Studio examined what uses of POPOS would be tolerated; their activities included practicing Balinese monkey chant; police refused to comply with security guards' attempts to eject them.

Using public spaces freely: Ownership and management of public spaces
is a research paper which discusses the history of New York's POPS and San Francisco's POPOS policies, which began in the 60s, and were subsequently modified, as well as examining the use of public space in Atlanta.

Japan is another place that has had POPS since the 1960s.

Los Angeles is lacking in green spaces, whether private or public. However here's a list of 10 public spaces along the CicLAvia Route.

Seattle has also had Privately Owned Public Open Spaces policies since 1966 and the Seattle City Council offers a maps of POPOs in Seattle.

Is Discovery Green in Houston a public or private park?

However, Anil Dash notes that only 16% of POPS can be considered successful at what they purport to be.

And the privatization of public space carries free speech ramifications.
posted by larrybob (23 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite

 
The Guardian's list of privatised public spaces in Britain invites additional submissions.

Not on the Guardian's list as it's not likely counterintuitive if you're British, but national parks in Britain are generally made up of private property. There's probably a whole FPP to be made about rambling and access in national parks, but I don't know that much about it.
posted by hoyland at 6:43 PM on August 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here's a Google Map of all the San Francisco POPS.
posted by twsf at 6:55 PM on August 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


(Honest question: Is POPS a San Francisco-specific term? I read a lot of planning/architecture publications/blogs, and had never heard the term until I took an "architecture tour" of SF last year, where the guide spent the entire three hours gushing/ranting about the concept)
posted by schmod at 7:20 PM on August 31, 2012


That you can only find these by a "treasure map" is ridiculous. I work somewhere with a space like this, but there is no signage and you can only get inside by walking through the parking lot gate (with convenient "no pedestrians" signage) and climbing a set of unmarked stairs.
posted by davejay at 7:58 PM on August 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Pittsburgh is another city where the Occupy movement has occupied a POPS.

Well there's almost no public space in downtown Pittsburgh. As far as I know there's only Market Square and Point State Park. All the other open spaces are corporate owned and they've been closing a lot of them off over the last few years. It doesn't leave much room for public protests.
posted by octothorpe at 8:08 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Pittsburgh is another city where the Occupy movement has occupied a POPS.

Well there's almost no public space in downtown Pittsburgh. As far as I know there's only Market Square and Point State Park. All the other open spaces are corporate owned and they've been closing a lot of them off over the last few years. It doesn't leave much room for public protests.


Note that almost all these spaces are corporarte owned. They grant a permanent easment for public use as part of a deal with a municipal entity.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:38 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Once again, Chicago gets the shaft.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:56 PM on August 31, 2012


Just in case someone doesn't know what Balinese monkey chant is. Turn speakers UP, set to full scream, freak out.
posted by 1adam12 at 9:07 PM on August 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


only 16% of POPS can be considered successful at what they purport to be.

Well to the developers, that means that roughly 84% of POPS are considered successful. The developers didn't want to build the space in the first place and the building owners certainly didn't want to let the smelly public wander through freely (not to mention pay to keep the place clean, maintained, and safe). Much easier for everyone if the space is an unused hidden wasteland that nobody knows about. It's all how you define success.

That said, I do sometimes have lunch in various POPS in downtown SF. The Mechanics Bank Building rooftop is not a bad spot. It's not particularly well-advertised, but they do have a note in every elevator saying "rooftop garden on floor #15," which is a lot better signage than many of these places have.
posted by zachlipton at 9:28 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Is POPS a San Francisco-specific term?"

No, but I don't think you'd be likely to see it much in architecture; it's more common in zoning laws and court cases. It's a legal term more than an architectural term.

A couple of the links in the post touch on this, but there's a line of court cases in the U.S. dating back to the creation of indoor malls arguing about whether such privately-owned "main streets/public squares" should be subject to First Amendment free speech rules or whether they should be allowed to regulate speech as fully private spaces. I'm sure there are cases from before even then, and I'm sure some of them cite to older British laws (the ones referred to in the first comment, more or less still in force) allowing people to cross private land on established footpaths.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:28 PM on August 31, 2012


I grew up in Houston and still have a lot of friends there. The way people talk about it on FB suggests they all think it's a public park. Even after hearing about the trouble Occupy folks had at Zucotti and knowing Houston's history of public-private development (i.e., everything is run by developers), it didn't occur to me that similar arrangements would be in place in Houston. Silly me.
posted by immlass at 9:31 PM on August 31, 2012


Seems like the kind of thing that's just crying out for a smartphone app.

Also, if I were a food cart vendor, I'd put a map of the nearest rooftop garden/atrium/whatever in big print right on the side of my cart. One of the biggest hassles of carts is finding a place to seat and eat, but if you knew that big, enclosed lobby right across the street was open to the public...
posted by madajb at 10:04 PM on August 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


Note that almost all these spaces are corporarte owned. They grant a permanent easment for public use as part of a deal with a municipal entity.

That's right, the grey zone between public/private creates unusual law enforcement issues. The Wall Street lobby where Occupy organizers met has been this kind of zone for a long time. Normally people are playing backgammon or chess in the public lobby there. You may not know this, but those games are bet on to the tune of 2 to 4 hundred dollars each. My understanding is that the police would need warrants beyond the kind of probable cause that applies on the street, to come in and enforce there.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:26 PM on August 31, 2012


Vancouver's been doing the public space thing for a while. Here's an article (PDF) on Vancouver's privately owned public spaces.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 10:30 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Does anyone know anything about these in Toronto or Hamilton? I'm sure I've heard things about Toronto having them, but wouldn't know how to find them.
posted by Canageek at 11:18 PM on August 31, 2012


Lots of hits for Toronto if you Google for it. I didn't check on Hamilton.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 11:53 PM on August 31, 2012


adamdschneider, sorry for giving Chicago the shaft. I searched for Chicago but could not find a guide earlier. However, now I've turned up a Chicago Open Public Spaces map.
posted by larrybob at 11:57 PM on August 31, 2012


There's also how privately owned apartment buildings place limits on political canvassing in a way that they cannot do on a street with privately owned homes and public easements.
posted by jonp72 at 8:25 AM on September 1, 2012


Speaking of Occupy: Twitter Fights Back to Protect ‘Occupy Wall Street’ Protester
posted by homunculus at 10:26 AM on September 1, 2012


Apologies for redundancy if this got mentioned already: Jerold Kayden from the Harvard Graduate School of Design looked at 503 partnered public spaces in New York a few years ago. He found 41 percent serving no public purpose. Once when he was documenting a public atrium filled with retail displays, a store official told him he wasn't allow to take pictures in the area. To which he replied, "And you're not allowed to have a department store here."

From his book: "If we allow our public spaces to be privatized, we suffer a self-inflicted wound."
posted by ecourbanist at 10:34 AM on September 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


Boston's Post Office Square is a privately-owned public park, and one of the prettiest, most tranquil spots in Downtown Boston. It was the site of an ugly, poured concrete parking garage. When it became necessary to renovate, the owners moved the garage underground and turned the reclaimed ground into a really wonderful park.

There's no discouragement of regular use, and even if there were I'd have a hard time getting pissed about it because the garage could still be there blocking the light.
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:34 AM on September 1, 2012


> whether such privately-owned "main streets/public squares" should be subject to First Amendment free speech rules

Some states guarantee an affirmative right of free speech, not just prohibition against infringing that right by the government.

Pruneyard v. Robins is my favorite case, from California.

Paulson v. Seamark Properties is another good one, from Washington state. The link is a U. of Puget Sound Law Review article that covers the history of private property vs. free speech in simple (for a legal paper) language. I just moved from a house I owned to an apartment & wanted to put up campaign signs. Following the arguments in the article, I put placards in "my" windows rather than yard signs in the "common" areas.
>> Massachusetts, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington all initially extended some state constitutional protection for speech on private property, but they later scaled back the scope of their decisions or overruled the holding altogether.
posted by morganw at 8:19 PM on September 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I visited Greenacre Park in NYC (219 East 52nd Street) a little while back - it's a very small but charming spot with some nice gardens and a rather dramatic waterfall at the back.

One thing that surprised me was the park's no-photography policy; there were at least two signs to that effect. And this isn't a boilerplate, unenforced policy either: during the 20 minutes that I sat eating my bagel there one morning, I actually saw an employee emerge from a secret door and chastise another visitor for taking a picture of his friend in front of the waterfall.

I can't understand why they need to restrict photography in this space. The place is so small that you can see practically every inch of it from the sidewalk anyway. Left a bad taste in my mouth.
posted by sriracha at 8:52 AM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


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