It seems that (one of) my psionic powers is the ability to find Publicly Owned Private Spaces, or POPs.
On of the last articles I ever wrote for Seattle Met— “Seattle’s Unknown Private Spaces…That Are Actually Public Spaces“—was about Seattle’s 40 POPS. (It was part of a larger feature story the magazine published called “Hidden Seattle.”)
I wanted to call attention to these relatively unknown public spaces because otherwise private businesses have wiggle room to shirk their original commitment to provide a public benefit; POPs work like this: Developers can get leeway on zoning rules if they agree to make a portion of their projects open to the public. And the spaces must come with all the requisite free speech rules that don’t otherwise apply on private property…
During my vacation to London earlier this month, I’d ID three or four sociopersonal landmarks every day (like going shoplifting at Marks & Sparks or going to the site of the Notting Hill riots), and just use it as an excuse map a route for the day to bus, bike, walk, train, tube, or ferry all around London. Following this routine, I inadvertently landed in one of London’s POPS on my first afternoon in town.
It wasn’t until this week, though, when this Next City article— “Mapping London’s Privately Owned, Allegedly Public Spaces”—came up on social media, that I realized I’d plopped down in a POPs along my winding route to dinner on that first day when I was walking from 23 Heddon Street (zowie!) in Soho to Dishoom in King’s Cross.
The Next City article ran this photo and caption…
People relax as they sit on the green canal-side steps off Granary Square, a privately owned public space in London.
…which caught my eye because….
…that was the canal-side park I’d stopped at on the way to dinner.
The Next City article was actually reporting on a Guardian article that busted London’s POPS for not living up to their public mandate.
From Next City:
“The Guardian partnered with Greenspace Information for Greater London CIC, the city’s environmental records center, to produce a map of London’s POPS. But beyond their location and ownership, information about the spaces was difficult to come by — a fact that ended up playing into the investigation’s critique of the whole model.
The Guardian contacted the landowners of more than 50 major pseudo-public spaces in London, ranging from financial giant JP Morgan (owner of Bishops Square in Spitalfields) to the Tokyo-based Mitsubishi Estate (owner of Paternoster Square in the City of London) and the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company (owner of the open space around the ExCeL centre).
We asked them what regulations people passing through their land were subject to, and where members of the public could view those regulations. All but two of the landowners declined to answer. We also asked all local authorities in London for details of privately owned public spaces in their borough, via the Freedom of Information Act; most councils rejected the request.
“Public space advocates told the paper that POPS tend to ‘appear unrestricted to the average person as long as they are behaving in ways that corporate landowners approve of, such as passing through on the way to work or using the area for spending and consumption. It is only by exhibiting unsanctioned [behavior] — holding a political demonstration, for example, or attempting to sleep rough in the area — that citizens are able to discover the limitations on these seemingly public sites.’ ”
This mini-investigation was similar to a New York Times article that ran back in April that busted wayard POPS in New York City (including a delinquent Trump property)… And also came to the attention of Pedestrian Chronicles.