Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The "Secret" Parks of Chelsea

2012 ParkChelsea Map reveals Chelsea's “Secret Parks”

“While researching our 2012 map update we located a veritable treasure trove of open space opportunities that we realized most Chelsea residents had no idea existed. “ says Arnold Bob, better known as Ranger Bob, Park Chelsea’s Parks Commissioner. “ Most of these spaces are part of the NYC Privately Owned Public Space (POPS) program, where building owners are given zoning variances in return for creating public spaces. However, several factors have conspired to make these spaces relatively invisible to their intended users.
-Many of these spaces are on side streets and look, to neighbors walking by, to be private parks that are part of the adjacent building.
-The original POPS law did not include any obligation to reveal the public aspects of these spaces, so for many of the earliest opened spaces no signage exists that they are public spaces. For POPS opened under amendments to the law ,the signage is generally minimal and is not very visible from the street.
-The NYC Parks Department does not list these open spaces on their maps, nor for that matter do the vast majority of other city or privately published maps.

 -"Greg Smithsimon, a sociology professor at Brooklyn College and co-author of The Beach Beneath the Streets: Exclusion, Control, and Play in Public Space, said that he spoke to a number of architects who were explicitly told to dampen their POPS, sinking them below grade or behind fences, anything to make them uninviting."
Upon first being shown the 2012 ParkChelsea map, one Chelsea senior noted that for years she would be coming home from shopping with heavy bags, she would see one of the listed areas, but thinking it was private property, just walk past it. Now she knows it is a public open space where she can stop and rest on her way home.
This map will be of use to Chelsea residents of all ages, from the mom with young kids looking for a place to sit outside with a stroller, to Chelsea’s seniors who will now be able to easily locate available seating near wherever they are in the neighborhood.
When presented with copies of the 2102 Park Chelsea map, Congressman Jerold Nadler and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer were delighted with the concept.
ParkChelsea’s plan for the upcoming months is to work with Chelsea public officials, store owners and media to make this map available throughout Chelsea.

What are Privately Owned Public Spaces
"Privately Owned Public Spaces, abbreviated as "POPS", are an amenity provided and maintained by a developer for public use, in exchange for additional floor area.
POPS typically contain functional and visual amenities such as tables, chairs and planting for the purpose of public use and enjoyment. Privately Owned Public Spaces are permitted in the City’s high-density commercial and residential districts and are intended to provide light, air, breathing room and green space to ease the predominately hard-scaped character of the City’s densest areas."
.-NYC Dept of City Planning POPS website

 Here's are some of these"secret" POPS parks in Chelsea, now listed on the  ParkChelsea map...:

Madison Belvedere, 28th,  between,  5th and Madison.  12,000 square feet, Built 2001.
Children can play in the grass here!. There were a handful of people there on the Sunday this picture was taken, and as you can see NO ONE was using this great grass playspace.

Big Screen Plaza,  between 29th-30th off 6th Ave, 10800SF Built 2011 I stopped by here one evening and found that a group of kids had turned the 29th street side of it into a skateboard park.
The POPS plaza  at 1250 Broadway has no signage to reveal it is a public space and traditional public seating, people either create their own as the fellow sitting on the planter ledge in this photo or...

...use the 2 adjacent benches provided by the 34th st. Partnership

774 6th Ave between 26-27st, 10100 square feet, built 2002. 

239 West 27th between 7th and 8th 3,100 square feet,  rebuilt circa 2011. This space has no signage that indicates it is a public space.

Penn Plaza Park, between 7-8Ave, 20,000 square feet (approx.), 33rd-34th St, Built 1997

Madison Green    5 East 22nd St near Broadway ,  13000 square feet  Built 1983

As you approach this park you get the impression that it is a private space that is part of the adjacent apartment building. There is no sign that says it is a public park. The only hint of it being that it   is one is a very small NYC Parks Dept "No Smoking" sign".  This Park had just TWO people in it when I first  visited, and ONE the second time I stopped by. (update May 30, 2012... There actually is a sign that says this park is open to the public, it is located just above the ground level and I didn't notice it until my fourth visit to the park)

Here at the East 22st POPS a mom is having a great time  blowing bubbles for her daughter. One doesn't need equipment costing hundreds of thousands of dollars to create a great playground experience for kids

 325 5th Avenue, entrance on 33rd st, 8200 square feet park. Built:2011.
In the back of this picture you can see a child tossing a football to his dad. What we need to do is let Chelsea parents know that our POPS parks  are available for their children to play in

 Now 2012:108 5th Ave at 16th Street

Comment about this space from NY World...
"This corner plaza is required to have a bicycle rack, a water fountain, a bench, a certain number of trees, etc. The building removed the bench years ago when they renovated the building and put a sign that it would be replaced. It never was. The water fountain, gone. The bicycle rack, gone. They have recently renovated the planter which sat empty for so long but none of the other amenities are available so there is really no public use except to walk through. There were frequently homeless people on the bench which is why I suspected they removed the bench. Shameful. They were required to put these amenities in place in order to build the building but they removed them and no one enforces the agreement. Shameful again."

Behind closed gates: Inaccessible ‘public spaces’

Other "Secret Parks"

34th Street at 10th avenue

HELL'S KITCHEN — A small greenspace above the Lincoln Tunnel is finally getting a facelift more than a year after being padlocked by the Port Authority,
Alice's Garden, named after caretaker Alice Parsekian who pruned and watered the flowers in the West 34th Street space for more than 20 years until her death last year, will now be managed by the Hell's Kitchen Neighborhood Association (HKNA) and Clinton Housing Development Company (CHD).
While the Port Authority still owns the land, it will lease it for $1-a-year to the HKNA and CHD.
"It's like a secret garden, in a way," said Kathleen Treat, president of HKNA, of the greenspace between Tenth and Eleventh avenues.

Read more:

Do you know of a  public "secret" park in Chelsea that's not on our map?  Send us an email at:  wtgichelsea  (at )

The Secret Parks of Manhattan
There are over 500 POPS in Manhattan. Some of these are marginal spaces others equal to the best of NYC's publicly owned parks.   Many of these have the same issue that the POPS of Chelsea do that there is either no signage or minimal signage to let residents know that these are public spaces.

ParkChelsea feels that it would be of great value for every community in Manhattan that has these POPS to offer its residents a map similar to the ParkChelsea map.

                                                             Manhattan POPS

On a Brian Lehrer  radio show, a caller who lived next to a building with a POPS space called in  and said that until learning that there was a POPS next door to where she lived, she had no idea there was one.

 The sign below is the current sign standard for POPS.  Many older POPS have no signage, minimal signage or signage that is invisible from the street. ParkChelsea recommends that NYC posts signage as this on city Parking posts near POPS to make the existence of these spaces visible to people in the neighborhood.


 POPS References:

Greg Smithsimon, a sociology professor at Brooklyn College and co-author of The Beach Beneath the Streets: Exclusion, Control, and Play in Public Space, said that he spoke to a number of architects who were explicitly told to dampen their POPS, sinking them below grade or behind fences, anything to make them uninviting...

 ...What resulted was “an arms race,” as Mr. Smithsimon called it, where by the Department of City Planning, which creates the rules for each POPS, would fine tune the rules each time a developer seemed to find a work-around. NY Observer article 

This study of why most of these centrally located bonus plazas are paradoxically unused by the public finds that exclusion itself is actually an objective of private developers of public space.

 Although the intent of these is to be public, a lot of the design is geared towards making
people think before they use them. I mean, you know, a lot of people don’t know that
these are public spaces
. I think a lot of developers like them to not know they’re public

. Greg Smithsimon


 According to Jerold Kayden, a Harvard professor who quite literally wrote the book on POPS, 50 percent of all buildings with privately owned public spaces within violate the rules under which they were established. NY Observer article

After Occupy Wall Street, Big Real Estate Would Like to See More Restrictions on Private ‘Parks’

NY Observer

What to Do With Zuccotti Park? The Designer Behind More POPS Than Anyone Has Some Ideas

The Secret Parks of the East Side
I read an article on the fight for more parks on the East Side, here's an excerpt from it...

Dan Garodnick east side councilman:
“Believe it or not, the neighborhood has much less park space than most of the city,” local councilman Dan Garodnick told The Observer. “My district ranks 51st out of 51 neighborhoods.” Falling just after Midtown East is the tony quarters of the Upper East Side, 46 out of 51.

parks “advocate” Geoffrey Croft:
“There is a huge disparity between what the East Side is getting and what the West Side has had for a long time,” Mr. Croft said. “They’ve got multiple recreational spaces not only with ball fields but skate parks and even merry-go-rounds.”

NY Observer

In the above article Park Life: The East Side’s Landless Gentry Fight for Every Scrap of Open Space, no mention is made of the fact that there are a more POPS on the east side then anywhere else in the city. So again we say  Privately Owned Public Spaces  really are  the Secret Parks of Manhattan.-Ranger Bob

"The problem is many of these semi-public spaces now appear so private, most walkers wouldn’t even know to use them...
"Consider Le Parker Meridien Hotel. One of three mid-block POPS connecting West 57th and West 56th Streets, the hotel’s two-story polished marble lobby, complete with bellmen and security, is part of the 6,820 square feet of space exchanged for thousands of square feet in additional developable floor area. A narrow arcade linking the lobby to West 57th Street acted as a coffee bar until a freak concrete spill last month shuttered Knave, as it’s known. The place appeared so private prior to the spill that it apparently fooled the New York Times, which described it as “a gracious room normally swathed in red velvet curtains, where a hot chocolate costs $6.” No mention was made that it was actually a public space. Or that it had been at the center of lawsuits in the early 1990s for violating its original purpose: to improve pedestrian circulation."

"The Knave" is supposed to be a public passageway -- can you tell? Photo: Le Parker Meridien


  A group of city officials in Seattle recently organized a tour of these Privately Owned Public Spaces–or POPOS–to spread awareness of the issue to both the public and property owners.  During the tour, the issues at stake arose almost immediately; as reported by an article in the Daily Journal of Commerce, the group was asked by a security guard to leave the premises.  The officials politely informed the guard that they were on public


The City’s recent public plaza zoning, enacted in 2007, contains the following provision governing the design and content of Rules of Conduct signs (italics denote defined terms in the zoning):
[A "Rule of Conduct"] sign shall not prohibit behaviors that are consistent with the normal public use of the public plaza such as lingering, eating, drinking of non-alcoholic beverages or gathering in small groups.

 Despite all the rule-making, there is still no clear guide as to what constitutes proper behavior in a POPS, or exactly what kind of activities property owners can control. The spaces themselves offer a bewildering array of definitions.

 At the end of March, both City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and the Mayor went on the record to support the idea that POPS should obey the Rules of Conduct for New York City parks, which include, for most parks, nighttime closings and time-tested regulations against both commercial and private activities, including camping.


Friends of POPS