Two weeks ago, The New York World went on The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC to ask New Yorkers to survey hundreds of spots very much like Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, home of Occupy Wall Street. These are “privately owned public spaces” – small patches of indoor and outdoor real estate that property owners have committed to making available for public use. Developers secured valuable exemptions from city zoning rules in exchange for commitments to open these areas to the public.
You’ve heeded the call. So far, WNYC listeners and New York World readers have visited 94 privately owned public spaces and reported back to us about what you’ve found there – from welcoming oases to locked gates. If you haven’t participated yet, or want to head out for another round of visits, you have until next Wednesday, November 9 to submit a survey.
The happiest reports so far have shared details on hidden gems: spots that might not look like much from the outside but are wholly pleasant once you find them. About half of the locations surveyed so far have received a grade of 4 (“Good: open and used by people”) or 5 (“Great: I’d live here; buying air mattress today”).
Francesca Lucka, who visited six spaces in one day, had glowing reviews for 525 E. 72nd St. and said it was a standout in her search. “It is pretty, has a great water view, good seating and its purpose is clear from a block away,” she said in our feedback form. “Even the dimmest bulb would have no doubts that this little spot of tranquility is for everyone.”
The New York World followed up on some of your favorite “secret” spaces, tucked behind buildings or hiding in the shadows of a looming skyscraper.
55 Water Street
Reviewer Rating: 5 out of 5
The Elevated Acre at 55 Water Street in Lower Manhattan is by far the most beautiful public space we’ve visited and also quite hidden. If you’re on Water Street, look for the escalators and staircase next to the sign on the south side of the street. Go up two flights and you’ll find an urban garden — similar in landscaping to the West Side’s High Line — with a view of the East River and plenty of seating. Summer visitors can also take in outdoor movies. No one was there when we visited on a recent Monday afternoon — not unusual, judging from readers’ comments. Elevated Acre is a must-see if you work in the area.
275 W. 96th Street
Reviewer rating: 1 out of 5
The rooftop Lotus Garden on 96th Street is only open to the public on Sundays, from 1 to 4 p.m., April through November, earning it a score of 1 from one contributor who said he has lived in the neighborhood for decades without knowing the garden was here. Since we couldn’t make it during those hours we were left gazing longingly at the garden’s website, which shows photos of greenery and landscaped paths. It also provides instructions on how to become a paying, key-bearing member of the garden association, allowing for longer hours of access.
145 W. 67th Street
Reviewer rating: 4 out of 5
A lovely hidden space connects 67th and 68th Streets midblock between Broadway and Amsterdam. The site appears to be part of a building entrance but is actually a public space with flowers, benches and a fountain. Only a few passersby were there during our Monday afternoon visit, but according to one reviewer the space is “very pleasant, well-maintained and well-used by the neighborhood people.”
125 Broad Street
Reader rating: 3 out of 5
Call this one the optical illusion public space. From Water Street, the plaza looks empty because its seating is hidden behind a wall on one side and stairs on another. It’s no wonder that Chuck Newman called it “uninviting,” saying, “It’s not even obvious you can walk through here.” But if one ventures into the plaza, measuring more than 21,000 square feet, you’ll find trees, benches, and fountain surrounded by flowers and auditorium-like seating. The space near the entrance on 125 Broad street is much less useful since it lacks proper seating but is well-maintained (thanks to @chucknewmanjr for the picture). It is also hidden from view by a concrete wall from the sidewalk, which is why Newman only gave it a 3 out of 5. Notice in the last photo how 125 Broad Street has built out this space on the left while the adjacent property to the right, 55 Water Street, has left it empty.
400 E. 71st Street
Reviewer rating: 4 out of 5
Thick greenery and brick walls separate the sidewalk from this small plaza of benches and flowers. The plaza looks like it is part of the apartment complex next to it but there’s a small sign on 71st street marking the area as public space. While the hedges make it difficult to see the space from the outside, from the inside they work to separate the plaza from Third Avenue, making it feel more detached from the busy street. Our reviewer Yulia Karasik — who give this space a rating of 4 out of 5 — says she uses it as the scenic route on her way to work, even though she worried she was momentarily passing through private property.