URBAN DESIGN International

, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 270–284 | Cite as

The evolution of privately owned public spaces in New York City

  • Stephan SchmidtEmail author
  • Jeremy Nemeth
  • Erik Botsford
Original Article


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 pre-reform 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.


privatization public space New York City zoning 



Partial funding for this research was provided by the University of Colorado's Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER).


  1. Banerjee, T. (2001) The future of public space: Beyond invented streets and reinvented places. Journal of the American Planning Association 67 (1): 9–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Boyer, M.C. (1992) Cities for sale: Merchandising history at South Street Seaport. In: M. Sorkin (ed.) Variations on a Theme Park: The New American City and the End of Public Space. New York: Hill and Wang, pp. 181–204.Google Scholar
  3. Carmona, M., Heath, T., Oc, T. and Tiesdell, S. (2003) Public Places Urban Spaces: The Dimensions of URBAN DESIGN. London: Architectural Press.Google Scholar
  4. Cooper Marcus, C. and Francis, C. (eds.) (1997) People Places: Design Guidelines for Urban Open Space. New York: John Wiley and Sons.Google Scholar
  5. Crawford, M. (1992) The world in a shopping mall. In: M. Sorkin (ed.) Variations on a Theme Park: The New American City and the End of Public Space. New York: Hill and Wang.Google Scholar
  6. Day, K. (1999) Strangers in the night: Women's fear of sexual assault on urban college campuses. Journal of Architectural and Planning Research 16 (4): 289–312.Google Scholar
  7. Ellin, N. (2006) Integral Urbanism. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  8. Fernando, N. (2006) Open-ended space: Urban streets in different cultural contexts. In: K. Franck and Q. Stevens (eds.) Loose Space: Possibility and Diversity in Urban Life. New York: Routledge, pp. 54–72.Google Scholar
  9. Kayden, J. (2000) New York City Department of Planning & Municipal Art Society, Privately Owned Public Space: The New York City Experience. New York: John Wiley and Sons.Google Scholar
  10. Kayden, J. (2005) Using and misusing law to design the public realm. In: E. Ben-Joseph and T. Szold (eds.) Regulating Place: Standards and the Shaping of Urban America. New York: Routledge, pp. 115–140.Google Scholar
  11. Kohn, M. (2004) Brave New Neighborhoods: The Privatization of Public Space. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  12. Loukaitou-Sideris, A. and Banerjee, T. (1998) URBAN DESIGN Downtown: Poetics and Politics of Form. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  13. Marcuse, P. (2005) The ‘threat of terrorism’ and the right to the city. Fordham Urban Law Journal 23: 767–785.Google Scholar
  14. Miller, K. (2007) Designs on the Public: The Private Lives of New York's Public Spaces. Minneapolis, MN and London: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  15. Mitchell, D. (2003) The Right to the City: Social Justice and the Fight for Public Space. New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  16. Németh, J. (2004) Redefining security in public space: The case of LOVE Park. IEEE Technology & Society 23 (4): 19–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Németh, J. (2009) Defining a public: The management of privately owned public space. Urban Studies 46 (11): 1–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Németh, J. and Schmidt, S. (2007) Toward a methodology for measuring the security of publicly accessible spaces. Journal of the American Planning Association 73 (3): 283–297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Németh, J. and Schmidt, S. (2011) The privatization of public space: Modeling and measuring publicness. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 38 (1): 5–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Novak, S. (2009) Austin weighs joining cities making density deals with developers. Austin American-Statesman (29 November 2009), accessed 30 November 2009.
  21. Schmidt, S. (2004) World Wide Plaza: The corporatization of urban public space. IEEE Technology and Society 23 (4): 17–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Smithsimon, G. (2008a) Dispersing the crowd: Bonus plazas and the creation of public space. Urban Affairs Review 43 (3): 325–351.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Smithsimon, G. (2008b) Sunset in the Imperial City: How New York’s public spaces presage the end of empire. Journal of Aesthetics and Protest 6 : 18.Google Scholar
  24. Sorkin, M. (1992) (ed.) Variations on a Theme Park: The New American City and the End of Public Space. New York: Hill and Wang.Google Scholar
  25. Whyte, W. (1980) The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. New York: Project for public space.Google Scholar
  26. Zukin, S. (2009) Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of City and Regional PlanningCornell UniversityIthaca
  2. 2.Department of Planning and DesignCollege of Architecture and Planning, University of Colorado Denver, CB 126DenverUSA
  3. 3.Department of City PlanningNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations