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 also initiated POPS, because developers needed an incentive for creating space for public use. In exchange for the space given to the public, a building is able to have additional rentable floor area that would otherwise not be allowed.
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 get pedestrians to where they’re going. Indoor thruways are meant to have entrances on two different streets, as well as a connection to the building’s lobby. This allows for foot traffic to come through the middle of a block, which can help pedestrians avoid thick sidewalk crowds.
Outdoor Plazas can be a great place to rest. If ample and moveable seating is available, there’s more of an opportunity for groups to sit together.
Indoor Plazas create comfort from the cold or heat outside, 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. Some guidelines to follow that help attract people to the space are:
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 it.
There should not be elements that discourage people from visiting the space. Gating can make it appear to be 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, and they emit an aura of unwelcomeness. All areas should have high visibility from the street so that they feel more secure, and not be isolating.
Create a space that isn’t too far back from the sidewalk or hidden from the sidewalk. If there are adjacent driveways or unattractive features, greenery can help block any sore sights.
Trees and other assorted greenery activate the 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 are being neglected. Well maintained POPS should be beneficial whether someone is just passing by or is intending 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