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Projects & Proposals > Privately Owned Public Space Printer Friendly Version
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  Update October 17th, 2007:
On October 17, 2007, the City Council adopted a zoning text amendment related to design and operational standards for Privately Owned Public Plazas, as modified by the City Planning Commission. Zoning text changes are now in effect. View the PDF Document adopted zoning text amendment.

Download the Public Space symbol: In pdf format or Adobe Illustrator format.




cover of privately owned public space book

photo of public space in 120 park avenue

photo of public space in 153 east 53rd street

photo of public space at 1 world wide plaza

photo of public space at 550 madison avenue

The Department of City Planning, the Municipal Art Society and Harvard professor Jerold S. Kayden joined forces several years ago to develop an electronic database with detailed information about every one of the public spaces created as a result of the city’s incentive zoning program. The database findings led to the publication of "Privately Owned Public Space: The New York City Experience".

This book describes the evolution of incentive zoning in New York City and profiles each of the 503 public spaces at 320 buildings that were granted additional floor area or related waivers in exchange for providing these spaces. Copies of the book may be ordered from Urban Center Books, 457 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10022 (212 935 3959) or online at www.urbancenterbooks.org.

The spaces are concentrated in Manhattan’s midtown and downtown business centers, although a substantial number are in east midtown and the upper east side. Three buildings in Brooklyn and one in Queens have privately owned public space. Choose a community district to view maps and tables of all spaces in the district:

Downtown -- Manhattan District 1
Greenwich Village -- Manhattan District 2
Clinton and the Upper West Side -- Manhattan Districts 4 & 7
Central Midtown -- Manhattan District 5
East Midtown -- Manhattan District 6
Upper East Side -- Manhattan Districts 8 & 11
Downtown Brooklyn -- Brooklyn District 2
Long Island City -- Queens District 2

The 1961 Zoning Resolution inaugurated the incentive zoning program in New York City. The program encouraged private developers to provide spaces for the public within or outside their buildings by allowing them greater density in certain high-density districts. Since its inception, the program has produced more than 3.5 million square feet of public space in exchange for additional building area or other considerations such as relief from certain height and setback restrictions.

At first, the program was limited to a few types of spaces like plazas and arcades, but over the years many other types with differing standards were added. Experience with the early spaces shaped standards for the later spaces, which were more precisely defined and subject to greater public scrutiny than the first-generation spaces. Plazas built to the original 1961 standards account for one-third of the 503 spaces surveyed, the largest single category.

The results of the program have been mixed. An impressive amount of public space has been created in parts of the city with little access to public parks, but much of it is not of high quality. Some spaces have proved to be valuable public resources, but others are inaccessible or devoid of the kinds of amenities that attract public use. Approximately 16 percent of the spaces are actively used as regional destinations or neighborhood gathering spaces, 21 percent are usable as brief resting places, 18 percent are circulation-related, four percent are being renovated or constructed, and 41 percent are of marginal utility.

In response to the perceived failure of many of these spaces and to community opposition, the types of spaces permitted and their locations have been curtailed in recent years. And now, with this book and the comprehensive information available in the database, owners will be better aware of their obligations and the city will be better able to pursue enforcement where obligations are not being met. Only with increasing public awareness, further refinement of design standards, and diligent regulatory review and enforcement can New Yorkers be assured of high-quality privately owned public spaces.




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