New York City has over 550 privately owned public spaces (POPS) that provide places of respite for passersby, but few New Yorkers and tourists know that they’re allowed to use these lobbies, atriums, and plazas throughout the city. And why should they? Often times the spaces go unmarked, or even signed as if they are private. Now the city, Advocates for Privately Owned Public Space, and the Municipal Arts Society are trying to ramp up awareness of POPS throughout the city by calling for one simple yet effective thing: new POPS signage.
Like the green leaf is to city parks, the new POPS signage will denote places open to the public for use and enjoyment. The existing logo, a tree form over a grid, was—as pointed out by Pentagram partner and Design Observer cofounder Michael Bierut—based on a logo originally designed by the office Chermayeff & Geismar in 1974.
To solicit entries, the groups are launching a free international design competition that’s accepting entries at the contest’s official website through March 15. A winner will be announced on May 20, with finalists receiving $2,000 and the winner taking home $4,000. Funding for the competition is being provided in part by Knoll.
“Communicating through a logo the full meaning of public space as welcoming and inclusive places for diverse public uses is no easy task,” said Jerold Kayden, President of Advocates for Privately Owned Public Space in a statement. “Using an open design competition inviting members of the public to invent a symbol of ‘publicness’ to be placed at hundreds of plazas, arcades, and other outdoor and indoor POPS makes poetically good sense.”
There are currently 3.8 million square feet of POPS in New York, or the equivalent of roughly nine Bryant Parks or one-tenth of Central Park. The Elevated Acre in the Financial District, the public atrium at the Citigroup Building at 601 Lexington Avenue, and the plaza at 1114 Sixth Avenue in front of Midtown’s Grace Building are just a few of them.
New York’s POPS are created as an exchange when developers are granted extra floor area or waivers for their developments. The spaces are required to be maintained by the private property owner, and also meet certain criteria like providing “abundant, well-designed, and comfortable seating.” Some POPS may be lined by for-profit businesses like cafes, but patronizing them isn’t required to use the POPS.
The city has been trying to raise awareness of these public spaces over the last several years. In November, the Department of City Planning (which oversees these spaces) published a comprehensive map of where they’re located throughout the city. The map was, in part, a response to several audits performed by Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office that found a staggering amount of POPS surveyed to be noncompliant with city rules. The DOB has committed to conducting regular inspections at all POPS locales.
Correction: An earlier version of this piece identified the Ford Foundation’s atrium as a POPS; it is not part of the city’s program, and is operated by the foundation itself. Curbed regrets the error.