Transforming NYC's Privately Owned Public Spaces with Technology.

A short film and report on the challenges and opportunities presented by privately owned public spaces in New York City.

Amaani Hamid
October 15, 2012

New York City is famous for its public spaces. Residents and tourists retreat to places like Central Park, McCarren Park or The Highline to find sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of daily life. These spaces, while open and endearing, are enjoyed year-round and can become overcrowded at times, somewhat defeating their purpose. Recently, a different type of public space has come to the forefront in NYC: the famed Occupy Wall Street movement used a privately owned public space, Zuccotti Park, as its eventual home base, shedding light on a little known treasure in NYC’s landscape.

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There are, surprisingly, over 500 privately owned public spaces, also referred to as POPS, in NYC, but many are unknown and unused by the community. In a city where over 8 million people live in a densely packed environment and where well-known public spaces are just as congested, POPS present an untapped opportunity to enrich city life. 

Diverse public spaces provide refuge from overcrowded streets and sidewalks, venues for art and culture, open areas for exercise and relaxation, opportunities to be closer to nature within an urban environment, and places for public discourse and community assembly. Better conserved public spaces can lead to more connected communities, safer neighborhoods, and a better quality of life.

However, there are many hurdles to overcome in order for NYC denizens to fully utilize POPS. Foremost, there is a lack of awareness about their existence. Furthermore, many POPS are in a state of disrepair, have insufficient amenities, and sometimes exist in inhospitable conditions that prevent these spaces from being truly utilized.

This report discusses the many benefits of POPS, examines the aforementioned hurdles that prevent wider usage of these spaces, and describes how technology can help overcome those challenges. This report is a collaboration between Huge, a global digital agency based in Brooklyn; the Municipal Art Society (MAS), a non-profit organization dedicated to improving New York City; and Advocates for Privately Owned Public Space (APOPS).

To compile this report, Huge conducted user research, stakeholder interviews, and location assessments to gain insights into the challenges and needs across building owners, community advocates, public citizens, and the city. The report summarizes the history of POPS, depicts the current landscape,and makes recommendations based on findings.