The ongoing occupation of Zuccotti Park has put more public attention on so-called “privately owned public spaces,” or POPS, than ever before. New York is full of these spaces, most of them the result of deals between the city and developers who want breaks on zoning regulations. In the case of Zuccotti, the developers promised the space would be open 24/7, which has made the Occupy Wall Street presence possible, and has made a semi-obscure park world-famous.

But Zuccotti Park is just one of dozens of POPS around the city.  Just how public are these places? How accessible and welcoming? How pleasant and well-maintained?

Now The New York World, an online publication just launched by the Columbia School of Journalism, is partnering with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show to do a crowd-sourced map that will look into exactly those questions. Each of the city’s POPS is marked on the map and given a number; citizens are encouraged to visit the places and report back on what they see, noting also what time of day and day of the week they went.

To judge by some early reports, not all of these “public” places are quite as public as they are supposed to be. Here’s what a user named Charles had to say about the Broadway Atrium in Lower Manhattan:

I’ve tried several times to walk through this lobby (to avoid having to detour around it) and have been stopped and instructed to provide ID, which I regard as an inappropriate infringement. I’ve also asked if, in future, I would be permitted to walk through with a bicycle, and have been told No…Do I not have the right to walk through (with or without a bicycle), unimpeded?

And here’s what a user named Julia reported about East Winds, a space on East 80th Street:

Does not appear to be a public space at all. Seems to be simply ingress and egress to the building. I walk by this corner daily (numerous times) for over a decade and had never known it was public at all…There is no seating and no reason to believe it is public.

Other spaces got better marks. Dianne wrote this about the plaza outside the Claridge House apartments on the Upper East Side:

This is a really nice little space that is used and enjoyed by a diverse group of locals — nannies with baby carriages, young people gathering after school, people eating lunch, dogs and their humans. It is kept clean and the Claridge doormen keep an eye on things.

The project runs through November 9. If you’re in New York, get out there, investigate and contribute. It’s easy.

And it’s important, too. If we’ve learned anything from the last few weeks in Zuccotti Park, it’s the power of a truly public POPS.


Crowd-Sourcing the Lowdown on New York’s Privately Owned Public Spaces was last modified: March 6th, 2012 by Sarah Goodyear
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