The evolution of privately owned public spaces in New York City

Stephan Schmidt, Erik Botsford & Jeremy Nemeth

Go to article

Schmidt, S. , Botsford, E. & Nemeth, J. (1). The evolution of privately owned public spaces in New York City. URBAN DESIGN International, 16(4), 270–284.

New York City , Privatization , Public Space

New York City has actively engaged the private sector in providing publicly accessible spaces through the use of density bonuses and other mechanisms since 1961. In this article, we examine how the changing regulatory environment, promulgated by zoning reforms of the mid-1970s that advocated for increased amenity creation, has impacted the use, design and management of privately owned public space (POPS). We examine 123 POPS – 47 constructed before the mid-1970s reforms, 76 built after the reforms – using an index to measure levels of control or openness in publicly accessible space. We find that compared with prereform spaces, post-reform spaces encourage use through the introduction of design features and signage, but discourage use by decreasing accessibility of the space and increasing the amount of subjective rules and regulations. We also find that the reforms had no significant impact on use or sociability. Our findings can help guide planners and policymakers in New York City and elsewhere to understand how they can not only encourage better privately owned spaces, but perhaps even mandate them.

Main finding
The research finds statistically insignificant difference in the degree and amount of spatial control, sociability or use of POPS over time but also notes that the interaction between the changing policy environment and developer priorities appears to have led to an increase in an overreliance on programmed elements and other legal and design interventions to signal appropriate behavior and use of the space. The study observed that post-reform POPS tend to discourage use through increased regulatory and access restrictions such as constrained hours of operation or the inclusion of areas of restricted or conditional use, but also encourage use through the introduction of design features such as the provision of seating, lighting and signage.

Description of method used in the article
Examined 123 POPS (47 pre-reform, 76 post-reform) to determine how and in what manner policy changes affected the function and management of these spaces by utilizing an index that operationalizes levels of control or openness in publicly accessible space (Németh and Schmidt, 2007). The index groups spatial management features into 10 that encourage and 10 that actively discourage freedom of access, use or behavior and approaches (Laws/Rules, Design/Image, Accessibility/Territoriality, Surveillance/Policing).

Of practical use

Organising categories

Other or N/A
Physical types
Geographic locations