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Making Public Spaces Actually Public

Developers get a lot of milage from building privately owned public spaces—but the public often doesn't. Planners in San Francisco are now requiring buildings to make hidden POPS known, so that the public can actually use them.
February 13, 2015, 7am PST | Josh Stephens | @jrstephens310
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Many a development agreement has been sweetened by the inclusion of privately owned public spaces (POPS), which are intended to provide community benefits at developers' expense. POPSs can include plazas, paseos, seating areas, sculpture gardens and the like, all of which are supposed to be accessible to and enjoyed by the public. In San Francisco, one square foot of POPS is required for every 50 square feet of new commercial space. 

Years of research indicates, however, that POPS's are rarely used, in part because they are often hidden or, as San Francisco Chronicle architecture critic John King puts it, "cynically discreet." They become dead spaces even as developers reap the benefits. 

The city of San Francisco is trying to reverse this trend by requiring landlords to post signs and otherwise make POPS more visible. Planners will also be making sure that the POPS that developers have built actually match up with those that were promised. 

“A key element of the city’s downtown plan is that we need publicly accessible spaces that are easy to find and that people can enjoy,” said Scott Sanchez, the City Planning Department’s zoning administrator. “If you don’t know they’re there, you won’t use them.”

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Published on Friday, February 6, 2015 in San Francisco Chronicle
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