POPS: Not a Breakfast Cereal

February 8, 2016

POPS_Normandie Court

The concept of Privately Owned Public Spaces or POPS in New York City was first introduced in 1961 as ‘incentive zoning’ spaces, allowing private developers more buildable square footage in return for the creation of public plazas, atria, arcades, etc. POPS are physical spaces that, although privately owned, are required to be open to the public, easily accessible, aesthetically pleasing, comfortable, well lit and secure. Between 1961 and 2000, there were approximately 503 POPS built at 320 buildings in New York City – there are more now –  and they’re found principally in Manhattan.

While NYC zoning agreements have produced an impressive quantity of public space, they failed to yield a high quality of public space, mostly due to relaxed standards that originally governed their design. As many were built in the 1960s-80s, time has taken its toll; now they’re deteriorating and ripe for renovation.  This has become an opportunity for the City to get involved as they strive to upgrade those that were poorly planned to create spaces to truly benefit the public.

These ambitions are having an impact on HLZAE clientele.  Typically, public plazas become problematic when their deficits impact other structures, for example when they start to leak water down to spaces below. (The vast majority of building plazas act as ‘rooftops’ to garages and lower levels of buildings, so this is a common occurrence.) They become challenging to replace because they encompass so many elements, potentially requiring the involvement of the Department of City Planning because of the numerous requirements of public access:  ADA compliance, lighting, seating, planting, etc. And that means an extended project, time-wise, as well.

But not every plaza space requires the kind of intervention that involves City Planning.  A ‘repair’ or ‘replacement of materials in kind’ can be expedited. For example, the repair of a concrete slab plaza with a new concrete slab may qualify as a ‘repair’ and not need a work permit. However, if the plaza is being updated to be ADA compliant, that change may trigger the involvement of City Planning. The  renovation or reorganization of space to meet current POPS regulations creates a long term project and will involve a negotiation with City Planning. The key is to know when more creative involvement and extensive renovation is worthwhile and when a less complicated repair will suffice. HLZAE is well aware of the parameters and conditions surrounding POPS and knows how to make suggestions resulting in a time- and cost-effective project.

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