Beaumont, 30 W. 61st (corner of Columbus)
On a recent trip to New York City to meet with an editor I had to laugh, but not in a good way. It was not a maniacal laugh, just an amused, “Huh!” when I reached one of the pocket parks on my list of parks to visit. I laughed because the beautiful space at the Beaumont, the enticing space with lots of seating and plantings, had a firmly locked gate to keep out the ‘public’ for which it was intended. It almost made it worse when I referred to my notes and discovered this park leads to the pocket park behind it on West 60th Street. The latter park, the Regent, was closed for renovations anyway and as such inaccessible.
This bothers me. These privately owned public spaces (POPS) were granted by the city as incentive zoning in 1961. According to Privately Owned Public Space: The New York City Experience, by Jerrold S. Kayden, New York City offered bonuses to developers such as more floor space or the ability to build their buildings higher. In exchange, they agreed to “provide plazas, arcades, atriums and other outdoor and indoor spaces ... that would be accessible to, and usable by, the public for as long as the buildings existed.” (p. 1)
Did you get that last bit? “For as long as the buildings existed.”
While the Beaumont is supposed to be open from 8am until 8pm or until it is dark (whichever is later), the Regent should be open 24 hours. There is an indoor arcade that runs between the two streets and therefore between the two parks, but someone passing by would never know it and it is only an arcade or pass-through, not a place to sit.
Brian Nesin, an architect who studied under Mr. Kayden, is organizer of one of the groups working toward policing, if you will, the POPS in New York City. Read the article by Matt Chaban that mentions Nesin in the New York Observer here.