The Guardian has written about the rise of that open public space that appears to be public but can be controlled by developers who actually built the space. That seems to be the case in Great Britain “where Pseudo-public spaces – large squares, parks and thoroughfares that appear to be public but are actually owned and controlled by developers and their private backers – are on the rise in London and many other British cities, as local authorities argue they cannot afford to create or maintain such spaces themselves.”
The situation is a bit different in the City of Vancouver where access to space or easements through large developments are negotiated as part of rezoning development, and are accepted by developers in exchange for items like higher density or height. These agreements are maintained for the public to have access on property that would normally be in the private realm. And they also enable developers to build more on their properties in exchange for the perpetual maintenance and use of a portion of the site.
Large developments may also be required to keep a certain portion of their interior for the use of the public, such as the amenity area on the second floor of City Square at 12th Avenue and Cambie Street. A former development planner was aghast when a coffee area tried to brand that amenity space as part of a coffee bar instead of as a resting lunch place open to all the public who ventured there.
In Great Britain these private open public spaces colloquially called “Pops” are not subject to local authority agreements as they are in Vancouver and are instead provided at the whim of the landowner. In looking for the governance and regulation of fifty such sites in the City of London the Guardian newspaper could find little information. In response, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan will be indexing and compiling a list of all of these semi public spaces, and looking at how to monitor these public spaces. The new London Plan aims to have a more transparent approach to semi private public space, forming agreements with developers on the use and access of public areas as part of their development agreements.
As Matthew Carmona, an urban planning professor at the Bartlett School observes “Public space, whoever owns it, should be open and free to use, and these things need to be guaranteed at the time that we as a society give permission for developments to happen, But cities like London have always had diverse combinations of ownerships, predominantly public but also private and semi-private. There’s all sorts of complications and nuances which I think fail to be understood by claims that all privatisation is bad, and all public ownership of public space is good. I’m not interested in using the issue of privately-owned public spaces as a surrogate for a larger political argument. I think there are many instances where private spaces are well-used and enjoyed, and contribute socially and economically to the city.”