Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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NYC POPS: Exploring Human Agency of the Public Sphere

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Version 1 2021-11-23, 22:20
posted on 2023-09-22, 02:14 authored by Constable, Anna

This thesis aims to investigate, through design, spatial agency within the realm of New York City’s Privately Owned Public Spaces. The notion of agency in architecture is directly linked to social and political power. Starting in 1961, New York’s city planners introduced an incentive zoning scheme (POPS) which encouraged private builders to include public spaces in their developments. Many are in active public use, but others are hard to find, under surveillance, or essentially inaccessible. Within the existing POPS sites, tension is current between the ideals of public space - completely open, accessible - and the limitations imposed by those who create and control it. Designed to be singular, contained, and mono-functional, POPS do not yet allow for newer ideas of public space as multi-functional, not contained/bounded but extending and overlapping outward.  As public-private partnerships become the model for catalyzing urban (re)development in the late 20th century, bonus space is an increasingly common land use type in major cities across the world. The quality and nature of bonus spaces created in exchange for floor area bonuses varies greatly. In many cases, tensions in privately owned space produce a severely constricted definition of the public and public life. Incentive zoning programmes continue to serve as a model for numerous urban zoning regulations, so changing ideas of public space and its design need to be tested in such spaces.  These urban plazas offer a test case through which to examine agency, exploring how social space is also political space, charged with the dynamics of power/ empowerment, interaction/ isolation, control/ freedom. This thesis looks at one such site, the connecting plaza sites along Sixth Avenue between West 47th St and West 51st St. This is an extreme example of concentrated POPS sites in New York City. Here one’s perception and occupation of space is profoundly affected by the underlying design of that space which reflects its private ownership. Privately Owned Public Space can be designed that is capable of/ challenging the notion of the public in public space, and modifying the structure of the city and its social life.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

CC BY-ND 4.0

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Architecture (Professional)

Victoria University of Wellington Unit

University Library

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Architecture


Merwood-Salisbury, Joanna