Until last fall and the occupation of Zucotti Park, privately owned public spaces, or POPS, were a mystery to most New Yorkers. Ever since, people have been debating the fate of these spaces and what the city should do to ensure their accessibility at the same time to public is expected to behave themselves.
But it turns out such contentious urban space is not the sole preserve of New York. As a recent report in The Guardian reveals, our arch-nemesis London has been grappling with “private estates.”
Over the past decade, large parts of Britain’s cities have been redeveloped as privately-owned estates, extending corporate control over some of the country’s busiest squares and thoroughfares. These developments are no longer simply enclosed malls like Westfield in White City or business districts like Broadgate in the City of London – they are spaces open to the sky which appear to be entirely public to casual passers-by.
It appears from the scale of the change that privatisation of space is now the standard price of redevelopment. There are privatised public zones across Britain, including Brindleyplace in Birmingham, jointly owned by the property firms Hines and Moorfield, and Liverpool One, owned by the Duke of Westminster’s Grosvenor estate. In Exeter, Princesshay is described as a “shopping destination featuring over 60 shops set in a series of interconnecting open streets and squares”. The spaces here are owned and run by the property group Land Securities and the Crown Estate, which manages the monarch’s property portfolio. Land Securities also owns Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth, a waterside complex of shops, bars and restaurants. Bishops Square, which includes Spitalfields market, two squares and historic streets in east London, was sold to JP Morgan asset management in 2010.
There are, of course, significant benefits to the redevelopments, though some worry that Britain’s landscape is being slowly redefined by private ownership in two ways. As the Occupy protest highlighted, private owners can refuse right of entry to members of the public, closing off swaths of the city.
Critics also warn that these spaces are being designed on a corporate model that favours ornament – and high levels of footfall for retailers – while community spirit and sustainability are not a priority.
It’s a long piece, and interesting for the similarities and differences between their system and ours. Still, it’s good to know we’re not alone in suffering the oppression of our corporate overlords.