What does public space design for privately owned projects look like?

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Principal | Chief Executive Officer

Public spaces have traditionally been known as the heart and soul of the cityscape. Without a spacious public space, a city just isn’t the same.

Places like parks, plazas, pedestrian walks and public squares play a crucial role in maintaining the social fabric and promoting citizen health. They also have a part in ensuring that the environment of the city remains healthy, clean and ecologically balanced.

While the local governments usually manage conventional public spaces, a new breed of public spaces has slowly, but surely emerged on the scene. Known as Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS), these can work wonders to improve the valuation of private property.

But what is the purpose of POPS? What do they look like in the bigger perspective, and what are the complications (if any) related to them? That’s what I’m going to discuss today, so that you can incorporate them into your property to enhance its value and attract more tenants.

What does public space design for privately owned projects look like?

What are privately owned public spaces?

At the beginning, the term “Privately Owned Public Spaces” was coined by professor Jerold S. Kayden from Harvard. In the simplest sense, it refers to public spaces that anyone can access but are owned by a private entity.

POPS usually result from agreements between private property owners and local governing bodies which involve zoning incentives in exchange for providing publicly accessible space. It is meant to be an incentivisation policy aimed at improving public-private partnerships.

POPS operates similarly to other public spaces, with a few restrictions on activities imposed by the private organization or entity managing the area.

The purpose of privately owned public space design

Public space design for private properties can take a similar line as regular public spaces. In general, they should be made to appeal to all demographic quadrants, irrespective of gender, age and ethnicity. The very purpose of creating such a space is to attract as many people as possible to the property, preferably with high commercial intent.

However, increasing the crowd at these locations is not the only aspect to keep in mind during public space design for privately owned projects. Several factors need to be considered in this regard. Here’s a quick peek at some of the most important ones.

1. Contribution to the urban fabric

For any metropolitan location, urban centers need a break in the car-centric landscape. This is essential to appeal to the pedestrian, who forms an inextricable part of the city’s population. 

Through the pedestrian-centric design of public spaces, you can create a location where people can take a breather from the humdrum of city life. By taking a moment to live and commune with themselves, people can get in touch with their inner core, which is vital to achieving peace in the hustle-bustle that accompanies urban culture.

Activities in POPS can take various forms, such as music sessions around a public fountain, meditation, bird watching, or even a round of tossing frisbees. Designing the public space around such diverse activities will attract more and more pedestrians to the property and add to the animation of the area.

All of this ultimately allows the space to contribute towards the social development of the urban citizenry. Through public activities and areas, citizens can find more avenues to connect.

2. Boosting a street level connection

Public spaces owned by private entities can incorporate locations such as storefronts or patio space extensions of the interior space. This way, properties bordering these POPS can attract exclusive tenants ready to pay a premium amount for occupying these locations. 

3. Creating a permanent asset for the property owner

Finally, POPS can act as a valuable permanent asset for the property owners. In relation to the cost of the building, public spaces can be an inexpensive yet unique asset that works to attract more and more people to the building, area, or private center.

Complications Related To Privately Owned Public Spaces

You understand that public spaces owned by private entities have a number of advantages. However, these advantages are also accompanied by their own set of complications. 

For one, the very nature of privately owned public space is different from that of publicly owned public space. These spaces often need to incorporate a level of security that is uncharacteristic of public spaces in general. This is understandable due to the private entity’s direct ownership of and investment in the space. 

An excellent example of such a measure is found in the Sky Garden in London. This is a new private-public space on top of the Walkie Talkie tower, which was negotiated as a part of the planning permission. 

While the location is free to enter, you can’t just walk in anytime you want. You need to book your entry slot in advance and obtain a ticket to enter the location. Also, there’s a stringent layer of security that you must pass through.

All of these measures, unless designed thoughtfully and inclusively, may deter visitors to the space. So, a very thin line has to be traveled when designing a public space owned by a private owner.


Privately Owned Public Spaces are not a new trend, but they need to be designed keeping the spirit of public spaces intact. While private partnership in public spaces is essential for their modern development, it must strike a delicate balance between security and openness.

I hope that after going through the above guide, you now have a better idea of how public space design for private properties looks like and what its purposes are. Through this, incorporating public spaces on your property should become an easy enough task.

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