San Francisco’s secret public spaces revealed

San Francisco Chronicle urban-design writer John King has a great article in Sunday’s paper, examining the city’s privately owned public open spaces.openspace

What is a “privately owned public open space”? It could be a rooftop terrace, a courtyard garden, a street-level plaza or a completely enclosed space several floors up in a downtown skyscraper. But in general terms, it’s a space to which the property owner is legally required to allow public access, even though it remains private property.

San Francisco has a number of such spaces in the central city, built and maintained by the owners of commercial properties in accordance with requirements in the Planning Code. Although a few of these spaces are popular and highly visible, many of them are so well hidden — and access to them so tightly controlled — that most San Franciscans will never know they are there.

King’s article includes a great map of privately owned public open spaces, and runs with a sidebar on the Sky Terrace open space at Westfield San Francisco Centre.

Do take the opportunity to visit some of these open-space oases and savor the change of pace from the hurried world outside. After all, you have the right.


An event of the Young Urbanists group of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association will focus on privately owned public open spaces. Details are not available yet, but it is scheduled for 6 p.m. on April 23.

SPUR’s monthly publication, the Urbanist, published an article on this type of open space as part of its excellent regular feature “Urban Field Notes.” Check out page 30 of the November 2007 issue, available in PDF form at this link.

San Francisco urbanist performance-art group REBAR conducted a survey of privately owned public open spaces and has helped organize a series of performances and other events.


One Response to San Francisco’s secret public spaces revealed

  1. MPetrelis says:

    sorry to see that the link to REBAR’s survey is no longer valid. any idea how to find info on public open spaces in the mission and castro?

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