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How to make privately owned public spaces more accessible in Toronto

Posted by Chris Bateman / December 18, 2012

toronto parketteThey might look like the exclusive domain of condo dwellers and office workers, but hidden on roofs and behind gates are several hundred privately owned public spaces - POPS for short - that the city should do more to advertise, according to councillor Josh Matlow.

In a motion adopted by council at its November meeting, city staff estimate there are at least 27 POPS in the Toronto that account for more than 1 million square feet of parkland many don't know they have the right to use.

Way over in San Francisco, they had a similar problem. The Californian city mandated that new public spaces be included in all office development in 1985, but building owners were a little reluctant to invite the great unwashed inside, often resorting to crafty tactics that include placing signs at knee-level or using really tiny fonts.

Here, there are no rules requiring building owners to put up a sign, so most of our POPS are the sole domain of those in the know. Conversely, Matlow says there are likely many who believe their condo garden or rooftop perch is private when actually anyone is allowed to use it.

According to Metro, Yorkville has unmarked parks at One Bedford and 18 Yorkville. There's another at 33 Bay Street.toronto danforth parketteMost of our POPS were created using Section 37 agreements, clauses that trade condo developers extra floors, for example, in exchange for a parkette or other beneficial public feature. The others were built around office towers and high-rise apartments in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Despite the city's success at creating the spaces, argues Matlow's motion, it doesn't do a stellar job of pointing them out.

Back in San Fran, city has just released a web app that catalogs and maps its POPS with photographs, descriptions, and, thanks to Google Maps, directions. Once our own study is complete perhaps the city should look into something similar.

Though Matlow's motion only calls for signage, should it be taken a step further? Would you like to see signs added to privately owned public spaces? Do you have one in your building? Tell us below.

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Photo: "McGill Parkette" by psychedelicmojo2001 from the blogTO Flickr pool.



Jer / December 18, 2012 at 11:56 am
Very interesting, I would like to see a list of all of the sites, that would go a long way in improving access.
parkaboy replying to a comment from Jer / December 18, 2012 at 12:29 pm
Me / December 18, 2012 at 12:40 pm
If they're privately owned, they are not public.
Chris on Bay St replying to a comment from Me / December 18, 2012 at 12:51 pm
Socialists try to reduce everyone to the lowest common denominator. Those who work hard to earn little luxuries like these private spaces are not allowed to enjoy them alone.
Simon Tarses replying to a comment from Chris on Bay St / December 18, 2012 at 01:20 pm
Since when do 'socialists' do what you say, you neocon asswipe? These are places that should be accessible by all, and it's good for the city to point them out.
private / December 18, 2012 at 01:26 pm
remember these are privately owned land. It is up to the owner to do what they want with it, as long as they abide to city ordnances i really don't have a problem or a say what to do with them.
Jim / December 18, 2012 at 01:37 pm
if they agreed to provide the public access to the space, then it is no longer privately owned.

if the condo renegs on the deal, then maybe they should be required to demolish the extra floors or whatever extra they were granted when they agreed.
trickydisco / December 18, 2012 at 01:41 pm
I think listing them may be a nice idea as well...
the lemur / December 18, 2012 at 02:10 pm
If they're privately owned and the owners don't want them used, they'll close them off. If they are okay about the spaces being open to the public (the way that a business may be open to the public to allow customers to enter), then there isn't a problem. People aren't going to assume that an open space in a public area that appears to be set up for use by all is necessarily private property and therefore off-limits.

There really only needs to be something like a sign saying 'this is a public space, owned by x' or 'private property, for public use subject to regulations xyz'.
me / December 18, 2012 at 02:21 pm
Even if they're privately owned, but part of Section 37, public access is granted:

"Section 37 of the Planning Act permits the City to authorize increases in permitted height and/or density through the zoning bylaw in return for community benefits" (more details in Section 5.1.1 of Toronto's Official Plan)
Alex replying to a comment from Chris on Bay St / December 18, 2012 at 02:58 pm
Guys, it's really quite simple.

They are privately owned places that have been contractually agreed to be open to the public (in exchange for increased density).

Since when is it socialist to live up to your contractual obligations??
MS / December 18, 2012 at 03:28 pm
Since there's confusion: these are places on private property where the owners have signed agreements with the city to dedicate these lands to permanent public use.
Grant / December 18, 2012 at 04:01 pm
Rockefeller Plaza in NYC is an often cited example of a privately owned space that operates for public use in a very successful fashion. If one's definition of "public" means open access to all, it is understandable there is concern about the amount of control private ownership has to restrict or deterred certain people from using these spaces.
Jer / December 18, 2012 at 05:07 pm
I think in Toronto, YD Square isn't even completely "public" .. If I recall correctly it was a private/public partnership of some sorts..

Re: I can see how some condo dwellers would be concerned with more "public" use of their space considering how people already treat public space. You see so much litter/garbage around in public parks, dogs not being picked up after, etc. If everyone respected public space like it was their own private space then maybe people wouldn't be so concerned with "public" using the space that they are contractually able to use.
Ron / December 18, 2012 at 06:01 pm
How about a map available online?
Jay / December 18, 2012 at 06:40 pm
If these spaces are meant for public use the public should have access to information of where they are.

Just build an app, get some signs made, and put the info on the City's web site. High school kids could build the app for crying out loud. But in true Toronto fashion, I see a new committee and four years of staff reports before a simple solution is rolled out.
Za-Moon-Da / December 19, 2012 at 10:05 pm
Sometimes it doesn't even need to be "privately-owned public space" for condo dwellers to feel like they own it. Off the Lake Shore, and leading into Humber Bay Park, is a boardwalk that winds through the back of a bunch of condos. The buildings' management put up a barrier stopping cyclists and people with strollers. The city was alerted and they took it down. You should've seen the sour looks of those assholes when bikes and moms with strollers were able to pass through again.
Za-Moon-Da replying to a comment from private / December 19, 2012 at 10:07 pm
So keep quiet if you don't have a problem. Those ACTUALLY concerned are stained with the nonsense you force us to read.
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