Get More Square Footage by Giving Space to the Public

Commonly referred to as “POPS,” Privately Owned Public Spaces exist in high-density areas where there is limited access to public parks. Plazas can be used as a pathway to pass through quickly, a place to gather with friends, or somewhere to rest for a passerby. Combined together, all of the New York City’s POPS take up around 3.5 million square feet.

Why Create a Public Space?
POPS allows buildings to have more fluid zoning compliance regulations. In 1961, the city developed a Zoning Resolution which regulates which buildings can have residential, commercial, and/or manufacturing purposes. This Resolution initiated POPS because developers needed an incentive to creating public spaces. In exchange for the space given to the public, a building is able to have additional rentable floor area.

The system proves valuable to both the building owner and to the people who interact with the created spaces. Privately Owned Public Spaces have taken off in cities across the United States and in other countries as well, particularly the United Kingdom.

Types of Spaces

Through Block Plazas help pedestrians get to where they’re going. Indoor thruways need to have entrances on two different streets, as well as a connection to the building’s lobby. Pedestrians can avoid thick sidewalk crowds when foot traffic is allowed to cut through a block.

Outdoor Plazas can be a great place to rest. If ample and moveable seating is available, there is more of an opportunity for groups to sit together.

Indoor Plazas create comfort from the heat or the cold, depending on the season. They may have similar amenities to outdoor plazas.

Creating a Successful Plaza

There are rules that govern how these plazas must look, in terms of measurements, function, and amenities. Here are some guidelines that help attract people to the space:


Ensure that all people are able to enter and access the space and its features. Try to have it be on the same plane as the sidewalk, without stairs or steep slopes at the entrance. This way everyone is physically able to enter and enjoy the plaza.


There should not be elements that discourage people from visiting the space. For instance, gating can make the area appear closed. If necessary, make sure that any barriers used at night are retractable and aren’t in the way during open hours. Spikes on flat surfaces means there is less place for people to sit. To make users of the space feel more secure, all all areas within the plaza should have high visibility from the street.


Create a space that isn’t too far back or hidden from the sidewalk from the sidewalk. Greenery can help block any sore sights if there are adjacent driveways or unattractive features


Trees and other assorted greenery can activate a space. They create a more relaxing and pleasant looking plaza and create a breather from the surrounding urban environment. Make sure to not block entryways with plants.

Seating & Tables

Seating is an essential aspect of getting people to stay in a plaza. Chairs can be either stationary or movable, and flat surfaces such as steps or ledges give visitors additional seating options. Tables make it easier for people to eat, and give groups of people a focal point to gather around.

Activities & Programming

Holding events, such as a concert or craft-making session gives people a specific reason to visit the plaza.


Installations, sculptures, and fountains all add visual intrigue to the space.


Privately owned spaces should be taken care of properly in order to continue to be attractive, safe, and useful for pedestrians. The public can file complaints against specific POPS on 311 if they notice any neglect. Well maintained POPS should be beneficial, whether someone is just passing by or intends to stay for a while.


  • The complete list of rules and regulations regarding public plaza designs can be found here
  • The POPS website has a visual map of recorded spaces throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens
  • Privately Owned Public Space: The New York City Experience” is a book from 2000 that partnered with the NYC Department of City Planning to compile data about all existing POPS. It includes each address, detailed descriptions of each space, and photographs

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