San Francisco Exposes Privately Owned Public Spaces

San Francisco's 1985 downtown plan required large new office and hotel developments to incorporate public spaces, but the city is only now updating the requirements and reinforcing the initial goal of opening up privately owned public spaces (POPOS).

2 minute read

December 20, 2012, 8:00 AM PST

By Jessica Hsu


"Certainly some developers and building owners embraced the spirit of the downtown plan and looked at making this an amazing amenity and feature on their site," said AnMarie Rodgers, the city's manager of legislative affairs. "But I think it's been a struggle since this requirement was put in place to make sure they are truly public." Buildings that have not complied with the original 1985 plan will now be required to truly open up their POPOS and update signage. The city recently launched a new web tool that maps out the POPOS downtown and provides owners with universal logos to designate the amenities of each space including restrooms, food, and seating. "It should create a branding to get to the question, 'does the public understand what these spaces are?'" added Rodgers. "It should really help people to see it as not just one space, but a network of downtown open spaces."

Under the city's regulation, residents and visitors have every right to be in a POPOS whether or not they work in the buildings or buy food from the on-premise restaurants. Some building owners complied with the 1985 plan, but tried to maintain their exclusivity with hard-to-read signage. Others didn't even know that they had to make those spaces public at all. Emily Badger says, "San Franciscans would be forgiven for not quite understanding the whole concept, even 25 years after the creation of the downtown plan. We're generally programmed in any city to feel like trespassers in office buildings where we have no business, or hotels where we have no room." She concludes, "The idea now is that you shouldn’t have to feel that way, even as you’re enjoying a space that looks more like a private sanctuary than your average public park."

Monday, December 17, 2012 in The Atlantic Cities

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