As real estate developers gobble up the remaining parcels of available land in the world's ever-expanding cities, local officials are faced with a growing dilemma: how can room be made for public spaces? With skyscrapers reaching new heights, the ground-level experience and public realm can often appear to be an afterthought. And as cities wrestle with meeting budgetary demands, the provision of designated public spaces, such as plazas and parks, can be an expensive undertaking. 

Iceboat Terrace at CityPlace in Toronto is an example of a privately owned public space, image by Marcus Mitanis

But the battle for land acquisition between developers and cities has actually presented new partnerships and opportunities. In exchange for zoning concessions following negotiations with the municipality, developers often provide a privately owned public space (POPS) on the development site (or close by) for the enjoyment of everyone. Though operated by the developer, the space must be open for community use. Adopters of this concept, including New York City and Toronto, have launched interactive digital tools to identify and advertise POPS to their residents.

A placard indicates the presence of a privately owned public space in Toronto, image by Marcus Mitanis

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