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Presentation on “Primer on Plazas” which provides examples from existing plazas to show the types of elements that make a plaza successful and well-used.

A Privately Owned Public Space (POPS) is an amenity provided, constructed and maintained by a property owner/developer for public use in exchange for additional floor area. POPS are primarily achieved as-of-right through incentive zoning, although some POPS were created by way of a special permit granted by the City Planning Commission.

Privately owned public spaces have been encouraged in the city’s high-density commercial and residential districts as a means of increasing light and air and green space, and easing the hard streetscape formed by towering buildings bordered by concrete sidewalks. Since 1961, the Zoning Resolution has permitted different types of POPS, including residential, urban and sunken plazas, arcades, sidewalk widenings, open air concourses, covered pedestrian spaces and through block arcades. Over the years, the requirements for POPS have been refined, providing greater design quality and more comfortable elements to meet the needs of the public.

POPS, which can be located outdoors or indoors, now require arrangements of functional and visual amenities, such as a variety of seating (including benches and chairs), tables, plantings, kiosks and art works for the purpose of providing the public with a respite from the busy New York City streets. Indoor spaces must be easily accessible from the street and provide a place to sit and rest and perhaps get something to eat.

The most visible type of public space is the outdoor plaza, which can be identified by the familiar entry plaque. The conditions under which these outdoor spaces are permitted have continued to change since 1961, beginning initially with only modest design requirements and progressing to a superior set of design standards that ensure that the public benefit of amenities is maximized.

In 2007, all previous design regulations for outdoor POPS were updated and consolidated into one outdoor plaza designation - the public plaza. The 2007 changes facilitate the design and construction of unique outdoor spaces that truly engage the public with seating and plantings that result in an inviting, attractive and well used public space. PDF Document A follow-up text amendment, in June 2009, clarified provisions related to compliance, approval processes for kiosks and cafes, and design changes to existing plazas.

Design regulations for POPS, including dimensions, location, seating, planting, signage, permitted kiosks and open air cafes, and maintenance requirements, can be found in PDF Document Section 37-70 of the Zoning Resolution.

POPS design requirements are guided by the following design objectives

  • Open and inviting at the sidewalk A public plaza must be visually interesting and easily seen from the street—evidence that it is an open, public space. Seating must be easily visible with generous paths leading into the plaza.
  • Accessible A public plaza should generally be located at the same level as the adjoining public sidewalk to encourage easy access by all passersby. Pedestrian circulation is encouraged by a pleasant and rational layout of paths and open space.
  • Quality seating space A public plaza must accommodate a variety of well-designed, comfortable seating for small groups and individuals, which may include fixed and movable chairs, benches and broad low walls.
  • A sense of safety and security A public plaza must be oriented to, and visibly connected to the street to avoid any sense of isolation. It must be well-lit and contain easily accessible paths.