Yesterday WNYC’s excellent Brian Lehrer Show took on the issue of privately owned public spaces, or POPS. As we wrote a couple of weeks back, the show has been collaborating with the New York World website to do a crowd-sourced inventory and assessment of the spaces that developers create in exchange for lucrative zoning breaks. It’s an issue that’s been much in the news as a result of the Occupy Wall Street presence in what has become New York’s most famous POPS — Zuccotti Park.

PPS’s Fred Kent joined Brian Lehrer and New York World reporter Yolanne Almanzar for the segment, which you can listen to in its entirety below.

The scene at Zuccotti Park back in October. Photo: Sarah Goodyear

Here’s some of what Fred had to say about the Occupy Wall Street presence in Zuccotti: “We need those places to express ourselves without any hesitation…. We’re moving through an era right now of massive change in a wonderful way. And the feelings that they have are manifested all over the world. It’s a great time. What do we get out of it in the end is what we’re trying to figure out.”

Fred suggested that if the park’s occupation is creating a need for more public space in the area, perhaps nearby streets should be closed to create that.

The founding inspiration behind PPS is the work of William “Holly” Whyte, whose 1980 book The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces revolutionized the way people saw the parks and plazas around them. Here’s what Whyte wrote about the public’s right to use those spaces — words that have often been quoted since the Zuccotti occupation began:

The public’s right in urban plazas would seem clear. Not only are plazas used as public spaces, in most cases the owner has been specifically, and richly rewarded for providing them. He has not been given the right to allow only those public activities he happens to approve of. He may assume he has, and some owners have been operating on this basis with impunity. But that is because nobody has challenged them. A stiff, clarifying test is in order.

One disturbing finding that has emerged as the result of the reporting done by WNYC and the New York World: it is very difficult to get information about exactly what benefits developers have gotten in return for the public spaces — some of which are not very accessible or pleasant to use. It is as true now as it was more than 30 years ago, when Whyte wrote those words, that “a stiff, clarifying test is in order.”

You can read an in-depth account of what the New York World found in the course of their reporting here. They’re going to keep digging, and we’ll keep you in the loop.

Zuccotti Park and OWS: “A Stiff, Clarifying Test” for Privately Owned Public Spaces was last modified: March 6th, 2012 by Sarah Goodyear