The Guardian has written about the rise of that  open public space that appears to be public but can be controlled by developers who actually built the space. That seems to be the case in Great Britain “where Pseudo-public spaces – large squares, parks and thoroughfares that appear to be public but are actually owned and controlled by developers and their private backers – are on the rise in London and many other British cities, as local authorities argue they cannot afford to create or maintain such spaces themselves.”
The situation is a bit different in the City of Vancouver where access to space or easements through large developments are negotiated as part of rezoning development, and are accepted by developers in exchange for items like higher density or height. These agreements are maintained for the public to have access on property that would normally be in the private realm. And they also enable developers to build more on their properties in exchange for the perpetual maintenance and use of a portion of the site.
Large developments may also be required to keep a certain portion of their interior for the use of the public, such as the amenity area on the second floor of City Square at 12th Avenue and Cambie Street.  A former development planner was aghast when a coffee area tried to brand that amenity space as part of a coffee bar instead of as a resting lunch place open to all the public who ventured there.
In Great Britain these private open public spaces colloquially called “Pops” are not subject to local authority agreements as they are in Vancouver and are instead provided at the whim of the landowner. In looking for the governance and regulation of fifty such sites in the City of London the Guardian newspaper could find little information. In response, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan will be indexing and compiling a list of all of these semi public spaces, and looking at how to monitor these public spaces. The new London Plan aims to have a more transparent approach to semi private public space, forming agreements with developers on the use and access of public areas as part of their development agreements.
As Matthew Carmona, an urban planning professor at the Bartlett School observes “Public space, whoever owns it, should be open and free to use, and these things need to be guaranteed at the time that we as a society give permission for developments to happen, But cities like London have always had diverse combinations of ownerships, predominantly public but also private and semi-private. There’s all sorts of complications and nuances which I think fail to be understood by claims that all privatisation is bad, and all public ownership of public space is good. I’m not interested in using the issue of privately-owned public spaces as a surrogate for a larger political argument. I think there are many instances where private spaces are well-used and enjoyed, and contribute socially and economically to the city.”


  1. Vancouver has dropped the ball with Oakridge and appears it will continue to do so as the next iteration goes through its development permit process. It’s such a huge site but the only way to cross through it will be to go way up to a rooftop park. And it will likely be subject to closure at night.
    It looks good on paper but climbing up and over will not be comfortable or desirable for most. It will be a massive hole in what should be a coalescing urban centre. Oakridge is getting such a massive gift for incredible profits but is holding on to an outdated mall to anchor the whole thing and using it’s internal sprawl as an excuse to avoid public rights of ways through the site.
    It could be an incredible thriving city-scape. Instead it will be a mall surrounded by towers. Ho-hum.

  2. Much smaller issue than that, but in the area of Cambie/False Creek the strata councils have taken to policing bike racks on sidewalks in front of their buildings. They leave a note claiming a 24hr limit and then cut the lock and seize the bike. It is theft, but the police wont follow up on it because it’s just a bike theft.

  3. What is the case in other metro municipalities? Do they have easements like those described for Vancouver? Near me in Burnaby there is a park that looks public, but that is private with a No Trespassing sign. Will the Brentwood mall plaza be entirely private, or is there a commitment to public access and public activity?

  4. While the phrase, “The devil’s in the details,” is over-used, it may be applicable in this case. In the case of Vancouver, one has to examine the legal details carefully – it appears totally the fault of the Legal Services Dept. Most agreements for the semi-public spaces we rightfully praise exclude skateboards and roller blades, as well as cycles. Others have gates that are frequently locked shut (observers should phone Bylaw Enforcement to force them open). They’re usually not as ‘public’ as claimed.

  5. And in respect of controlling the use of a space (as in the case of skateboarding or molesters hiding in the bushes), that’s often tied to legal liability for injury – occupiers’ liability.
    If a site is privately owned, then it is the owner (i.e. strata or developer) that will be sued and liable for damages, not necessarily the City.
    Even with insurance in place, owner will want to reduce risk.

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