Page C4.2 . 09 May 2001                     
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    Public and Private in New York


    The introduction to "Privately Owned Public Space" is a history of New York City's attempts at planning and zoning beginning in 1916 and continuing to the present. The detail of the history is sharp while not talking down to the novice, and the politics is fascinating.

    This is followed by legal terms; the differences between a plaza, arcade, a widening, and a concourse are great reading. Then follow definitions of items that are typical in public spaces and an explanation of how this research document was completed.

    The meat of this report is a neighborhood-by-neighborhood, space-by-space examination of 320 of New York's 503 privately owned public spaces. It includes the violators of agreements, those who discourage the use of the space, those who routinely lock the public out of the space, and those (oddly enough) who abide by their agreements.

    Because I traverse the city quite often, sometimes miles at a time, I flipped through the book and was amazed by the little spaces that are considered "public," and conversely, the large spaces that indeed were grand, yet not done through the generosity or largesse of a friendly developer.

    Indeed, if there's an extra square inch of space on the street, someone got a perk for providing it. The space vs. perk ratio is mind-numbing: the city received about 82 acres of "public" space, developers got a ratio of as much as 14-to-1 extra square footage in their buildings. One comparison measured it in multiple Empire State Buildings of building space.

    When the report was first issued in September, 2000, one of its principal targets was a not-so-good neighbor of mine, Worldwide Plaza, between 49th and 50th Streets, 8th to 9th Avenues. This was the former site of Madison Square Garden and for years afterwards an underused parking lot.

    Residents of Hell's Kitchen fought the developers tooth and nail on every aspect of the development. The public space was promised to be just what the neighborhood residents needed. Many thought not.

    As part of the agreement, 134 movable chairs were to be made available to the public in the space, yet strangely, over the years they became corralled by the two eateries to form an outdoor seating area.

    Since release of the report, the restaurants have assured the neighborhood that anyone can sit at the tables without ordering food, and that has appeared to be the norm. Although it discourages the commoners from sitting with the gentry, the system seemed to work into the early fall. Who knows what spring will bring?

    This book helps neighborhood residents and activists, as well as codgers and former dodgers, get better use of spaces that were designed for the little guy. As expensive holes in the ground are quickly turned into backdrops for "Lifestyles of the Rich and Stupid," it is refreshing to note that Kayden and his co-authors have given many Davids a stone to fling at the Goliaths.

    F.L. Andrew Padian is a Hell's Kitchen resident, a rabid New York Yankees fan, and a housing specialist at Steven Winter Associates, Inc.

    Privately Owned Public Space: The New York City Experience, by Jerold S. Kayden, the New York City Department of City Planning, and the Municipal Art Society of New York, John Wiley & Sons, 2000. 360 pages, hardcover, $49.95. Available at



    ArchWeek Photo

    Residents of the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood in New York were promised a public seating area by the Worldwide Plaza developers, but the space was taken over by private interests.
    Photo: Jerold S. Kayden

    ArchWeek Photo

    Improperly parked cars at an arcade designated for public access.
    Photo: Jerold S. Kayden

    ArchWeek Photo

    Gates close off a public space during times when they should be open.
    Photo: Jerold S. Kayden

    ArchWeek Photo

    A "public" space off limits to the general public.
    Photo: Jerold S. Kayden

    ArchWeek Photo

    Now New Yorkers can begin to question the wrongful uses of their turf.
    Photo: Jerold S. Kayden

    ArchWeek Photo

    One of many methods for discouraging use.
    Photo: Jerold S. Kayden

    ArchWeek Photo

    Privately Owned Public Space: The New York City Experience, by Jerold S. Kayden, the New York City Department of City Planning, and the Municipal Art Society of New York.
    Image: John Wiley & Sons


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