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New logo a “gesture toward visibility” for New York’s hundreds of privately owned public spaces

Whether unavoidable or hidden, so-called privately owned public spaces (or POPS) dot the nation's cities and downtowns. They are plazas, arcades, atriums, rooftop terraces, and mini-parks, some located within and some outside private buildings or property, but all are required to be open to the public under a city's zoning ordinance or land-use laws.

The Harvard Graduate School of Design's Jerold S. Kayden popularized the term “POPS” with his 2000 book, Privately Owned Public Space: The New York City Experience. Now, Kayden wants to promote the spaces themselves, many of which lack any signage or suggestion of public availability.

To that end, Kayden's New York-based Advocates for Privately Owned Public Space is collaborating with the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) and the Municipal Art Society of New York to find a fitting logo for use on legally mandated signage that informs the public that a POPS site is open for use. Kayden and collaborators have launched a design competition in pursuit of such a logo, inviting applicants to apply by March 15.

“As POPS have grown in number and diversity of design and use, the time has come to explore a new logo design that graphically represents the evolving nature of POPS and that creates a unified visual identity for the City’s POPS program,” reads the competition website.

Submissions will be posted online on Wednesday, March 20, reads the official website, and displayed at a public exhibit in March. Members of the public will be invited to vote online for their favorite logo through Tuesday, April 2. The competition will name up to three awardees, and the Director of New York's DCP may choose from among them for a new official New York POPS logo to grace signs at the city's 550-plus POPS sites.

This gesture toward visibility follows last September's New York DCP release of an interactive map cataloging the city's hundreds of POPS. Such POPS have been an integral part of New York's zoning process since their introduction in the city's 1961 zoning code, in which POPS were incorporated as incentive zoning to developers: The city would offer private developers a zoning bonus of 10 rentable office or residential square feet in return for one square foot of plaza, and, while the developers would legally own and maintain the plaza, such spaces would need to be open to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Now, New York's POPS tally nearly 4 million square feet of space, or about 80 acres—but, a 2017 audit by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer of 333 POPS found that 182 of them were not fully compliant with the law, obstructing or restricting entry by the public in some way. The city has been engaged in a tussle with the Trump Organization since the 1980s over the removal of a bench in New York's Trump Tower—on which Kayden had some ruminations.

Like New York, other cities have undertaken efforts to chronicle and publicize their POPS sites, among them San Francisco, Seattle, and Toronto. Boston might need to catch up a bit: In 2015, Kayden observed in Architecture Boston magazine that the City of Boston could further publicize those POPS to the public who could use and engage them. He also joined Radio Boston host Meghna Chakrabarti for a walking tour of some of Boston's little-known (and better-known) POPS, like Post Office Square Park, the 14th-floor observation deck at Independence Wharf and Foster’s Rotunda on the 9th floor of 30 Rowes Wharf.

POPS are among Kayden's many research and public-service interests. Kayden is the Frank Backus Williams Professor of Urban Planning and Design at the GSD, and his teaching and scholarship address issues of land use and environmental law, public and private real estate development, public space, and urban disasters and climate change. As urban planner and lawyer, Professor Kayden has advised governments, non-governmental organizations, and real estate developers in the United States and around the world. He has consulted for the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, the United States Agency for International Development, and the United Nations Development Programme, among others, working principally in Armenia, China, Nepal, Russia, and Ukraine.

Kayden has previously served as co-chair of the GSD's Department of Urban Planning and Design, he was recognized schoolwide as “Teacher of the Year.” He earned his undergraduate, law, and city and regional planning degrees from Harvard, and subsequently was law clerk to Judge James L. Oakes of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. of the U.S. Supreme Court.