San Francisco's "public" privately owned spaces are hidden away and that needs to change


15 Responses to “San Francisco's "public" privately owned spaces are hidden away and that needs to change”

  1. Austin Haley says:

    The incredibly awesome podcast 99% Invisible did a show on these privately owned public open spaces (POPOS).  I’d highly recommend listening. 

    • MrEricSir says:

      Plus it has a fun little map showing all the POPOS.

      I think the fact that they’re “hidden” is part of the fun.  There’s nothing quite like stumbling on a cool little patio or garden somewhere and feeling like you’ve discovered something few others have seen.

  2. Dean Putney says:

    I’ve been wanting to check out these locations for a while, maybe the time is coming close!

  3. Another Kevin says:

    But “Open to Public,” of course, doesn’t mean that the space is open to any given person at any given time. The landowner’s permission is still required, and may be denied or withdrawn at any time. (cf. Zuccotti Park.) The distinction between privately-owned public space and simple private property is unclear; there may not be one, in which case the signage is entirely irrelevant.

  4. Regan Martin says:

    SPUR did a roundup of POPOS a few years ago.  Looks like their map is on Google Maps now:

    totally agree with you on the sign requirements though, one of many things our City can learn from NY.

  5. niktemadur says:

    Clicking on the link in the article to “Check out to see six sites here“, I get Firefox can’t establish a connection to the server at

    These “public” privately owned spaces are hidden away from my browser and that needs to change! :-P

  6. DocPop says:

    We do photowalks to many of these places a couple times a year. It’s really awesome to find these little hidden gems in the city, but there’s one spot on this list, at the base of a federal building, were the overzealous security guards will actually call the cops if you have a camera on you. We’ve done this walk three times so far with no problems, except for this one spot, were we’ve been called “trespassers” by the private security for being in the POPOS.

  7. Love the photo in the post BTW. Very Douglas Adams. Now I want to make one.

  8. In acknowledgement of the sign in the picture; I wonder if the stairs are gone?

  9. Z says:

     I dunno what happened to America, but the current view of property is really irritating. It used to be that property wasn’t meant to be horded and wasted, thus community access was a big deal.

  10. redstarr says:

    The idea of being able to pay a fee to circumvent the signs is ridiculous unless the fee goes specifically into a fund that creates and maintains an equal or better public area in that same neighborhood.   I could see having a fee go into building a nice block park or playground further down the street being of better use to the public than just a mandatory space inside that property and under the control of its owners. 

    It would help make things nicer for property owners,too, that are really sensitive to having the public there.  If I ran a luxury hotel, I’m not sure I’d want to have to allow every single person on the street to hang out there.  I can see wanting it to be guests only.   Sure, ideally, the public spaces are just full of awesome people having a quiet cup of coffee or families having a picnic and picking up after themselves and minding their own business.  But that’s not necessarily how it ends up when the entire public is entitled to be there.  You don’t just get the office folks getting some fresh air on their lunch break.  You get bums.  You don’t just get kids throwing a frisbee.  You get criminals eyeballing the hotel guests to pick victims.  You get litter and vomit and protesters and prostitutes and vandals and people that you have little control over suing for accidents.  I can see that not being for every property owner.  So you get the ones that you have to sign in with a guard and play while supervised and scrutinized and the ones that are technically public but you have to obtain permission to use it.

    Plus, a lot of the public would feel freer to enjoy themselves and more welcome in a more fully public place.  I don’t mind strolling around in a public park in shorts and a tank top, no make up, hair in a pony tail.  I’m getting a good walk in.  And other folks there are,too.  It feels normal.  But I’d feel out of place walking through the lobby of a fancy hotel or business office or taking the elevator with guys in suits and ladies in heels, me carrying a picnic basket and a trashy paperback headed to relax while they’re carrying briefcases and talking serious stressful business. 

    And the public spaces being planned and run by someone who was genuinely interested in public space would probably end up a lot nicer and more relevant to what the neighborhood needs and wants than just leaving it up to the property owner who’s not interested at all in that, just having to do it to satisfy the requirement to be allowed to build.  Putting people with a different priority entirely in charge of providing a public amenity is seldom for the best. 

  11. ceppm says:

    The always excellent 99 percent invisible by Roman Mars did a programme on these some time ago. Recommended:

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