In New York City, developers can create Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS) in exchange for the right to build taller buildings than allowed by zoning regulations. A book about the 500 POPS in NYC has been written by Harvard GSD Professor Jerold S. Kayden, in association with the NYC department of City Planning and the Municipal Art Society of New York. They detail the pros and cons of these Public Private places with photographs, maps, and notes. The book can be found here.

A recent New Yorker article, “Gilt” by David Owen, in the April 17, 2017 issue, compares and contrasts the new POP in the old IBM building on Madison Avenue at 56th Street, with the adjacent POP in the atrium of the Trump Tower. According to Owen, the IBM POP is an oasis in the city, a place that welcomes the public to take a break. Owen shares that the Trump POP has removed the benches and basically offers the public no amenities. It seems that some developers may have forgotten the agreement that allowed them to build more height and square footage in exchange for providing public access to indoor and outdoor private gardens and sitting areas.

In Boston, MA, we have a similar regulation. That requires a permit holder to make privately owned spaces available for public use in exchange for a variance. The Boston Society of Architects occupies the public benefit space at the old Russia Wharf Building with a gallery, meeting rooms and office space on part of the first floor and most of the second floor. The space has a long-term affordable lease because the developers exchanged this public access space for more square footage in the redevelopment.

Another POP space you may not know about in Boston is the 14th floor observation deck of Independence Wharf, located at 470 Atlantic Avenue. The observation deck overlooks Moakley Courthouse, Boston Children’s Museum and Boston Harbor. Because it is a POP, it is free to visit, but visitors must sign in and show ID at the front desk. You can visit daily between 10 am and 5 pm.

Do you have any Public Spaces in Private Buildings in your town? Do you ever tuck into one of these spaces for a respite from city life? We would love to hear more. We know that our private lives are more integrated with our work lives, as we work with more flexibility and in more remote locations. Our private lives are “meshed” with our public/social media lives. Do you feel that privacy is hard to find these days? Do you crave it? Does it matter? Please comment below. To learn more about how to get started on your next architecture or interiors project, contact me directly at or call the office at (617) 234-5300 x 0. We would love to be a part of your functional and beautiful project stack.

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