Privately Owned Public Spaces

‘Privately Owned Public Space’ or ‘POPS’ is a term coined by Jerold S. Kayden of Harvard University. It refers to a public space which is owned by a private entity yet is usable by the public. It is the result of a trade between a local government and the property owners which involves zoning incentives in exchange of a publicly usable and accessible space or utilities. It is an incentive based policy tool that stimulates social responsibility and creates better cooperation between public and private (LUK, 2009).

Public space is a place where all the public is allowed to have the rights of access and use, but not necessarily related to its ownership. The policy of “privately owned public space” allows the contribution from the private sectors and beneficial to the private urban development. The policy is a strong shaping force on the city and can transform commercial districts into enjoyable places (LUK, 2009) Cities across the world, including New York (where the concept originated in the 60s), Seattle, Tokyo, Bangkok, Hong Kong, have successfully demonstrated this. While the systems in these cities differ from each other, the principal of trading tax/zoning incentive remains constant. POPS across each these cities are identified with standardised signage that informs the public to their presence.

[noun phrase] [slang POPS]

  • 1. a plaza, arcade, or other outdoor or indoor space provided for public use by a private office or residential building owner in return for a zoning concession.
  • 2. a type of public space characterised by the combination of private ownership and zoning-specified public use.
  • 3. one of 525 or so plazas, urban plazas, residential plazas, public plazas, elevated plazas, arcades, through block arcades, through block gallerias, through block connections, covered pedestrian spaces, sidewalk widenings, open air concourses, or other privately owned public spaces specifically defined by New York City’s Zoning Resolution and accompanying legal instruments.
  • 4. Law’s oxymoronic invention.
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It is important to note that while involvement of private sector can cut the cost of urban development, privatisation of the public spaces may easily occur without careful guidelines and regulations. Loopholes in the policy can easily cause mis-uses of the policy for owner’s benefits and neglect of the social welfare. Monitoring these spaces is essential to maintain their quality. Accessibility, visibility and usability are important to ensure the protection of the public realm. (LUK, 2009)

Public spaces are places of social interaction. All over the world, people use it for eating and drinking, business meetings, phone calls, resting, reading, listening to music, working, etc. Irrespective of the size of the city or town or village, they remain one of the most important elements of the built environment. With the cooperation between public and private sector, cities can generate privately owned public spaces that make the communities vibrant and attractive.


American Planning Association. (n.d.). Great Places in America – Characteristics and Guidelines of Great Public Spaces. Retrieved January 14, 2016, from

Dimmer, C. (2013). Changing Understanding of New York City’s Privately Owned Public Spaces. Sustainable Urban Regeneration, Vol. 25_2013_01, 10.

Fisler, S. (n.d.). SEATTLE’S PRIVATELY OWNED PUBLIC SPACES. Retrieved from The Urbanist:

LUK, W. (2009). PRIVATELY OWNED PUBLIC SPACE IN HONG KONG AND NEW YORK: THE URBAN AND SPATIAL INFLUENCE OF THE POLICY. The 4th International Conference of the International Forum on Urbanism (IFoU), 697 – 706.