In 2009, I took this photo below of the Grace Building plaza. At the time it was an empty, windswept “public space” in name only, that lent itself to nice photographs but was otherwise just a drab, unwelcoming empty space. The very epitome of many of the “privately owned public spaces”* around the city, where the public got little-to-nothing in return for the rights that were ceded to building owners in exchange.
In the intervening six years, the explosion of ‘pop-up’ restaurants and other food truck-adjacent businesses have exploded around the city, and the owners of this plaza took notice. There are a few small shops, and actual seating now. Not just tables and chairs, but they replaces the sad planters along the right wall with trees that have surrounding benches. In addition, it even looks like they’ve replaced the ominous black glass on the building doors with something more open and inviting. A little worse for photographic aesthetics. Much better for humanity.
*Privately Owned Public Spaces, or “POPS”, are spaces that building owners agree to build for the public in exchange for various rights to construct buildings that don’t entirely conform to existing zoning regulations – so a building could be taller than its neighbors, if it has a plaza, or a public atrium, or some sort of park. There’s been some news about these recently because the lobby of Trump Tower is technically a POPS, but Trump had removed the benches and installed a ‘gift’ counter. After some press, the benches were returned.