Privately Owned Public Space: The New York City Experience / Edition 1

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As cities around the world seek new ways to improve their physical,social, and economic environments, they are paying greaterattention to the value of public space. Provision of new plazas andparks, reclamation of existing waterfronts, and beautification ofpublic streets are all increasingly viewed as important strategiesfor enhancing the quality of urban living. With scarce publicdollars available, cities are teaming with the private sector ininnovative public-private partnerships to fund theseapproaches.

One of the most significant public-private partnerships to obtainurban public space has been pioneered in New York City under therubric of privately owned public space. Since 1961, hundreds ofoffice and residential towers have received zoning floor areabonuses to encourage the provision of a wide variety of outdoor andindoor spaces - plazas, arcades, atriums - that are legallyrequired to be open and accessible to the public. At their best,these spaces marry aesthetics with function, offering uniquephysical and social environments within a densely packed urbancenter. At their worst, they are barren, unusable surfaces orprivatized-by-management spaces that diminish the spirit underlyingthe laws that created them.

Until now, comprehensive, systematic knowledge about this vastcollection of public spaces has not existed, either for experts ormembers of the public. To remedy this gap, Harvard Universityprofessor Jerold S. Kayden, The New York City Department of CityPlanning, and The Municipal Art Society of New York have joinedforces to research and write Privately Owned Public Space: The NewYork City Experience. Through words, photographs, scaled siteplans, maps, and analysis of newly assembled data, they examine thehistory, law, design, and use of the city's privately owned publicspaces. Each of the more than 500 spaces is individually discussedto provide far-reaching comparative information about this uniquecategory of public space.

In reading this book, designers, planners, lawyers, and academicswill gain greater understanding about the possibilities andproblems inherent in the design, management, and enforcement ofprivately owned public space. Public officials, private owners, andcivic group representatives will learn more about their roles inensuring public access and vitality of such spaces. Individualswill discover where New York City's public spaces are located andwhat amenities they offer. Everyone will comprehend more completelythe contribution that privately owned public space can make towardopen and attractive cities in which all individuals have access toa diversity of public places.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This extensive work provides for the first time a detailed look atthe city's experience, pro and con, through photographs, maps, siteplans, observed behaviors, and extensive notes."(, 5/08)

"The Introduction to Privately Owned Private Space is a historyof New York City's attempts at planning and zoning beginning in1916 and continuing to the present. The detail of the history issharp while not talking down to the novice, and the politics isfascinating." (, April 25, 2001)

"The book should also appeal to any enthusiast of urban spacesanywhere in the world, because the lessons learned in the "BigApple" are applicable anywhere. This is a history book, anincredibly detailed map of the New York City, and a lesson incivics all rolled into one." (F.L. Andrew Padian,

"This long overdue collaborative effort among urban planningprofessor Jerold Kayden, New York City's Department of Planning,and the Municipal Art Society, and involving dozens of researchers,is one of the most important books to be published about New YorkCity in years.... Along the same lines, in today's publishingenvironment, most commercial trade publishers would not likely beinterested, and too many high-quality, general interest, New YorkCity-related titles must vie for the limited resources of a fewuniversity presses or very small publishing houses that do not havethe resources to take on this kind of project — congratulations toJohn Wiley for publishing this book." (Bradley Beach Books,9/01)

An inventory of 320 privately owned plazas, arcades, atriums, and other spaces in New York. Such privately owned public spaces began in 1961, when the city began offering developers floor area bonuses and other concessions in exchange for keeping areas open to the public for as long as the building existed. Kayden (urban planning, Harvard U.) finds that the marriage of private ownership and public use has had a mixed record. At their best, the spaces provide residents, employees, and visitors with places for social, recreational, cultural, and utilitarian experiences; at their worst they are locked or empty strips hostile to public use. Following chapters that detail the history and law of the spaces, entries for each address include a description, b&w photo, and map. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471362579
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 11/28/2000
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 360
  • Sales rank: 1,012,854
  • Product dimensions: 8.05 (w) x 10.06 (h) x 1.18 (d)

Meet the Author

JEROLD S. KAYDEN, a lawyer and urban planner, is AssociateProfessor of Urban Planning at the Harvard University GraduateSchool of Design. He has published widely, coauthoring LandmarkJustice: The Influence of William J. Brennan on America'sCommunities and coediting Zoning and the American Dream: PromisesStill to Keep.
THE NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF CITY PLANNING guides the City'sphysical development and formulates land use plans and strategicpolicies with major goals that include encouraging housing andeconomic development, improving the City's quality of life, andpreserving its neighborhoods.
THE MUNICIPAL ART SOCIETY OF NEW YORK is a private, nonprofitmembership organization that champions excellence in urban designand planning, and preservation of the best of New York's past.Situated in the Urban Center in midtown Manhattan, the Societyengages citizens on issues of the city's built environment.

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Table of Contents



Law: Design, Operation, and Enforcement.




Lower Manhattan.

Midtown Manhattan.

Upper Manhattan.

Brooklyn and Queens.




Table: Privately Owned Public Spaces, by Address andClassification.

Photography Credits.



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First Chapter

The New York City Experience


This book reflects an important change in attitude toward New York City's privately owned public spaces. For the first time, parties representing a variety of interests have focused their energies on the existing inventory of public spaces, rather than on the policy for future public spaces, to make certain that the public receives the full benefits promised by the exercise of almost 40 years of zoning law. As public and private not-for-profit institutions, the New York City Department of City Planning and the Municipal Art Society of New York have their own reasons for participating in this work, and I will not presume to embellish upon what they describe in their individual prefaces, other than to thank them for their strong contributions to the project and to join the Municipal Art Society in saluting the late William H. Whyte.

For me, a scholar, lawyer/planner, and urban enthusiast, the reasons naturally differ to some extent. I have an abiding intellectual interest in the subject, especially in the idea that law can significantly affect the design of the built environment for the benefit of society. Privately owned public space--what I call law's oxymoronic invention--is a provocative construct, in and of itself and as part of a trend toward use of public-private partnerships to address urban concerns. When should the private sector be given prime responsibility for providing public facilities and services? Can law secure good design and operation from private developers and owners? What new responsibilities does this place on the shoulders of government and watchdog public-interest organizations when the private sector is given the front-line role in constructing and operating a public benefit? How does public policy address the inherent tension that arises when private interests diverge from public interests, and when competitive market forces do not impose their neutral discipline on practitioners? Of course, this issue is not confined to privately owned public space; it is equally presented by such inventions as business improvement districts that shuffle the deck when it comes to public and private roles.

I also have had a strong interest in testing the utility of detailed, empirical analysis for assessing law's impact on the planning and design of the built and natural environment. Having visited each of the City's 503 privately owned public spaces, interviewed users (where there were users), taken photographs, and drawn site plans, and having examined piece-by-piece the thousands of assorted legal documents, blueprint plans, and other data governing these spaces, I am convinced that such in-depth empirical work, while time-consuming and frustrating on occasion, can significantly expand our understanding and scope of conclusions about the relationship between law and planning/design.

If intellectual curiosity is one part of the equation for me, another is the crafting of public policy. By resurrecting data from the dustbin of history, analyzing it, and making the conclusions widely available to the public, this book itself is part of public policy. Members of the public, and especially the citizens of New York City, will now have the foundational knowledge essential to understand and use a public benefit to which they are legally entitled. In the past, these ultimate beneficiaries of the trade of floor area bonuses and other zoning incentives for public spaces have not always enjoyed the full fruits of those trades. I am sure that even some owners will be happy to know, finally, what their obligations are.

Physical public spaces are important contributors to the life of cities. Public parks, sidewalks, streets, and privately owned public spaces are areas where accidental and planned encounters among all types of people occur, the very interactions that make cities such a crucial part of social policy in the United States. This part of the city's public realm cannot be privatized by guardhouses or exclusionary zoning; but when gates to privately owned public spaces are locked during hours of public access, or when doormen improperly inform visitors that the space is private, then part of the greatness of the city, its inherent publicness, is diminished. I hope this effort serves as a small reminder of the need to secure and burnish urban assets already in place, as well as assets to be procured in the future. From time to time, I have referred to the hundreds of privately owned public spaces as a "decentralized" Central Park. From time to time, someone laughs at the hyperbole of the remark. But I have had a normative motive for saying it. No, these spaces are not collectively Central Park, but they nonetheless share the hope expressed by Frederick Law Olmsted for his great work, to bring closely together, poor and rich, young and old.

The completion of this book has been accompanied by the completion of a comprehensive relational database of all privately owned public spaces in the city. The full database ultimately will be available to members of the public and researchers alike, allowing for closer examination of the zoning bonus approach and analysis and development of policies for better enforcement and upgrading of existing spaces. In the meantime, use is all, so I encourage everyone to find the good and not-so-good in New York City's unique collection of privately owned public spaces.

Jerold S. Kayden

The Department of City Planning is pleased to join in authoring this book on New York City's privately owned public spaces. Since 1961, the New York City Zoning Resolution has been used to create public space where none existed. Concentrated in the most built-up areas of Manhattan where open space is at a premium, these spaces, although privately owned, have often provided significant and valuable public resources. Some of these spaces, however, have proven to be problematic. After almost four decades of experience with incentive zoning, we felt a comprehensive review of these spaces was warranted.

The record of ensuring that these spaces are well designed, open to the public, and operating in accordance with their approvals, frankly, has been mixed. The City has continually upgraded standards for these spaces and, at the same time, limited the areas where public space bonuses are available. Nonetheless, many of the spaces have been neglected, and, in some cases, even privatized. For the first time since incentive zoning was adopted, this book reviews each one of these privately owned public spaces and provides descriptions of their physical qualities, required amenities, and operating standards.

For several decades, in different capacities, as a public official and civic leader, I have tried to insure that these spaces live up to their potential. It is frustrating when they fail to do so, but extremely satisfying when they succeed. While many spaces of marginal value were built pursuant to the 1961 regulations when there were no requirements for such basic amenities as seating and landscaping, a small number of spaces built under the same regulations offer the public substantial benefits and improve the neighborhoods in which they are located. Some of the spaces built under the more rigorous standards adopted subsequent to 1975 do not serve fully the purposes for which they were intended, occasionally because of poor design but primarily because they are operated in a way that restricts public use and access. The clear conclusion is that higher regulatory standards, alone, do not assure a successful space. Successful spaces that contribute positively to city life incorporate values of good site planning, urban context, and public accessibility and use into their design and operation. Owners of these spaces operate them in a way that maximizes their value to the public. In short, the best spaces meet both the letter and spirit of the law.

One of the hallmarks of Mayor Giuliani's leadership has been the attention to all aspects of quality of life. This book, as well as the New York City Privately Owned Public Space Database described within it, are part of that effort to improve the lives of New Yorkers and the neighborhoods within which we live and work. The book shines a spotlight on these spaces and provides--for the first time--a sound basis for the City to improve regulatory and design standards, and better enforce the private obligations to maintain these spaces and keep them fully accessible to the public.

I hope that Privately Owned Public Space: The New York City Experience will be of interest and value to a wide range of users, civic groups, community boards, and owners. The more that people know about these resources, the more likely it is that these spaces can fulfill their promise to the public.

Joseph B. Rose
Director, The New York City Department of City Planning

Lewis Mumford's observation that "the city is a stage for man" provides a simple way to judge the value of public spaces created by private builders in exchange for zoning bonuses in recent years in New York. Sadly, while some 82 acres of public space have been created in Manhattan as a product of this incentive, not all were worth the bargain. Some plazas were badly designed or unfortunately sited. Others have succumbed to the inevitable urge of building owners to discourage public use. More than a few, initially valuable, have been poorly maintained.

The Municipal Art Society's determination to publish this study is a paean to William H. Whyte. Holly Whyte's relentless crusade on behalf of public places created useful standards and broad public interest. His short films developed under the auspices of the American Conservation Foundation and distributed by the Municipal Art Society taught a generation of planners, architects, bureaucrats, and sidewalk superintendents how to see what worked and what didn't. We believe this book will help protect the plazas that support urban life and help stimulate improvement in the many that fall short.

Holly loved the dynamic of the ever-changing city and counted on the good sense of its citizens to keep things moving in the right direction. So we hope instead of curling up with what we think is a very good book you'll take it out for a walk.

Kent Barwick
President, The Municipal Art Society of New York
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