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The evolution of privately owned public spaces in New York City

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New York City has actively engaged the private sector in providing publicly accessible spaces through the use of density bonuses and other mechanisms since 1961. In this article, we examine how the changing regulatory environment, promulgated by zoning reforms of the mid-1970s that advocated for increased amenity creation, has impacted the use, design and management of privately owned public space (POPS). We examine 123 POPS – 47 constructed before the mid-1970s reforms, 76 built after the reforms – using an index to measure levels of control or openness in publicly accessible space. We find that compared with pre-reform spaces, post-reform spaces encourage use through the introduction of design features and signage, but discourage use by decreasing accessibility of the space and increasing the amount of subjective rules and regulations. We also find that the reforms had no significant impact on use or sociability. Our findings can help guide planners and policymakers in New York City and elsewhere to understand how they can not only encourage better privately owned spaces, but perhaps even mandate them.
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Original Article
The evolution of privately owned public spaces
in New York City
Stephan Schmidt
a,
*, Jeremy Nemeth
b
and Erik Botsford
c
a
Department of City and Regional Planning, Cornell University, 313 West Sibley, Ithaca, New York, 14853.
E-mail: sjs96@cornell.edu
b
Department of Planning and Design, College of Architecture and Planning, University of Colorado
Denver, CB 126, PO Box 173364, Denver, CO 80217-3364, USA.
E-mail: jeremy.nemeth@colorado.edu
c
Department of City Planning, 22 Reade Street, New York, NY 10007, USA.
E-mail: erik@kapuku.com
*Corresponding author.
Abstract New York City has actively engaged the private sector in providing publicly accessible spaces
through the use of density bonuses and other mechanisms since 1961. In this article, we examine how the
changing regulatory environment, promulgated by zoning reforms of the mid-1970s that advocated for
increased amenity creation, has impacted the use, design and management of privately owned public space
(POPS). We examine 123 POPS – 47 constructed before the mid-1970s reforms, 76 built after the reforms – using
an index to measure levels of control or openness in publicly accessible space. We find that compared with pre-
reform spaces, post-reform spaces encourage use through the introduction of design features and signage, but
discourage use by decreasing accessibility of the space and increasing the amount of subjective rules and
regulations. We also find that the reforms had no significant impact on use or sociability. Our findings can help
guide planners and policymakers in New York City and elsewhere to understand how they can not only
encourage better privately owned spaces, but perhaps even mandate them.
URBAN DESIGN International (2011) 16, 270–284. doi:10.1057/udi.2011.12; published online 14 September 2011
Keywords: privatization; public space; New York City; zoning
Introduction
The provision of privately owned public space
(POPS) has become an increasingly popular
mechanism by which to supply publicly accessi-
ble space in light of strained municipal resources.
While a number of cities – including recent
proposals by smaller cities such as Austin,
Calgary, Nashville and Tampa – have programs
(Novak, 2009), New York City has actively
engaged the private sector in providing publicly
accessible spaces through the use of density
bonuses and other mechanisms for nearly 50
years. The city’s 1961 Zoning Resolution insti-
tuted an incentive zoning system whereby a
developer received additional floor area in ex-
change for the construction and maintenance of
a publicly accessible space on their lot. Since then,
over 530 POPS have been created in Manhattan,
Brooklyn and Queens, encompassing over 85
acres of new publicly accessible space in the city.
While successfully increasing the total quantity
of publicly accessible space, the quality of the
resultant spaces has been called into question, as
managers of POPS are often concerned more with
profit and less with providing a public good
(Loukaitou-Sideris and Banerjee, 1998; Kohn,
2004). Maintaining an appropriate corporate im-
age requires an integrated set of legal, design and
surveillance measures to signal appropriate beha-
vior and use, and consequently the appropriate
audience for such spaces. Owners and managers
of POPS can affect the use of, access to, and
behavior within public spaces by manipulating
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legal, design and surveillance techniques to create
more exclusive, less democratic spaces (Mitchell,
2003; Miller, 2007). As such, the physical char-
acteristics sends strong signals to potential users
about who belongs and who does not, thereby
excluding segments of the population deemed
‘out of place’ (Sorkin, 1992; Loukaitou-Sideris and
Banerjee, 1998; Ne
´meth, 2009). This critique,
although useful, is limited in that it does not take
into account the regulatory environment in which
these decisions are being made. The role of the
changing policy environment in affecting the use,
design and management of POPS has generally
been understudied, despite the fact that many
existing regulations governing POPS – and
especially those in New York City – are the result
of the action of renowned urban reformers like
Jane Jacobs and William Whyte. This issue is
particularly relevant for planners and policy
makers charged with developing regulations that
encourage the private sector to produce more
successful urban environments.
This study examines how the changing policy
environment has affected the design quality,
functionality and sociability of the resulting
spaces. Using established methodological techni-
ques, we conduct an extensive empirical analysis
of 123 POPS in New York City. We limit our
examination to the most common type of POPS in
North America: the corporate-controlled plaza,
park or atrium provided in exchange for a floor
area ratio (FAR) bonus. We find that newer
POPS – those constructed after the William
Whyte-inspired zoning reforms of 1975 and
1977 – are increasingly complex, aesthetically
pleasing and amenity-filled; however, they also
tend to be more restrictive of access to the space
and acceptable behavior within the space, than
their pre-reform counterparts. Paradoxically, these
newer spaces are both more open and more closed,
more inclusive and more exclusive. On balance, we
find that pre-reform POPS can be considered
privatized in nature (Kayden, 2000), while post-
reform POPS are more appropriately character-
ized as filtered spaces, seeking to attract only
those users deemed desirable or appropriate
(Ne
´meth, 2009). Interestingly, the reforms had
no impact on overall levels of use or sociability
of the public spaces created.
This article is organized in four parts. First, we
provide a conceptual framework for understand-
ing the evolution of POPS. We then examine the
evolving regulatory environment that has guided
the development, design and management of
these spaces. Third, we outline the methodology
and sampling process. Finally, we discuss some
conclusions and implications for both designers
and managers of publicly accessible space.
Privately Owned Public Spaces
This study lends empirical support to previous
work on POPS in New York City (Kayden, 2000,
2005; Kohn, 2004; Ne
´meth, 2004; Schmidt,
2004; Miller, 2007; Smithsimon, 2008a; Ne
´meth,
2009; Ne
´meth and Schmidt, 2011). A significant
portion of this work has focused on the role
of the developer – not city planners or policy-
makers – in designing, implementing, and
managing public spaces. We argue that it is
important to understand how the regulatory
environment impacts the resultant quality of the
built environment, broadly construed; that is, the
actual or potential use of the space, the physical or
built space, and the manner in which the
space is managed, all of which affect the quality
of the space (see Whyte, 1980; Cooper Marcus
and Francis, 1997). To our knowledge, no
study has evaluated the impact of comprehensive
incentive zoning regulations on the resulting
built environment, especially in the context of
POPS governed by complex administrative ar-
rangements.
Studies of public space often focus on design
and regulatory characteristics because the quality
of public space is an elusive concept: what exactly
is a ‘good’ public space? Some scholars list
functions or uses that spaces should allow
(Marcuse, 2005), others argue that public space
should be universally inclusive and encourage
interaction among diverse parties (Kohn, 2004),
while still others maintain that good spaces
possess abstract characteristics such as authenti-
city (Zukin, 2009), permeability (Ellin, 2006) or
flexibility (Fernando, 2006). The number of daily
users has also been identified as an indicator
of a successful space: the higher the users the
better the space (Carmona et al, 2003). But this
assumption does not account for privatized,
consumption-based spaces with heavy security
serving specific demographics, nor does it take
into account discovered spaces that provide
opportunities for quiet respite or contempla-
tion (Loukaitou-Sideris and Banerjee, 1998). In
fact, the least populated urban spaces are often
the most loved, as they can provide a welcome
respite from the city. Additional criteria for
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gauging the effectiveness of public space include
their impact on adjacent property values, attract-
ing retail development, reconnecting citizens
with the natural environment, and integrating
diverse populations and disparate neighborhoods
(Ne
´meth and Schmidt, 2011).
Clearly, no single space should be expected to
possess all these characteristics. Moreover, advan-
cing any or all of these normative claims is
problematic as it fails to recognize the subjective
positions from which the actual users interpret
and experience space (Ne
´meth and Schmidt,
2011). Therefore, any nuanced understanding of
actual or potential use would require in-depth
and long-term user perception interviews, a
difficult and time-consuming process fraught
with its own methodological challenges to valid-
ity and reliability.
How, then, might we efficiently and succinctly
measure the quality of public space? In this
analysis, we rely on previous studies that have
attempted to empirically quantify the design,
management and use of public space. Ne
´meth
and Schmidt (2007) construct an index to oper-
ationalize the management of public space. The
index groups spatial management techniques
into those that encourage freedom of access, use
and behavior, and those which actively discou-
rage freedom of access, use or behavior. The index
further divides these techniques into four major
approaches: the laws and rules governing the
space, surveillance and policing present in the
space, the use of design and image-building
techniques, and the use of access restrictions
and territorial separation to control space. Kayden
(2000) construct an index to discern the sociability
(defined as use or potential use of a space), in
which multiple assessors examine, among other
characteristics, how many people are present in
the space, the activities they are engaged in, and
whether (and where) they congregate. Assessors
also briefly appraise design features and opera-
tional qualities, such as the condition of amenities
and grounds. Each space is then given a score
ranging from the least sociable (‘marginal’) to
the most sociable (‘destination’). In light of the
difficulties in quantifying use discussed above,
the sociability measure can serve as a suitable
measure.
Using these empirically grounded methodolo-
gies, we show that POPS have become increas-
ingly complex and diverse, aesthetically pleasing,
and more amenity-filled, but simultaneously
more restrictive in terms of access and regulations
on acceptable behavior. As opposed to a bleak,
uninviting patch of concrete – the result of the
original 1961 resolution – many more recent POPS
now actively attempt to encourage a consump-
tion-oriented audience. Consequently, and para-
doxically, we find that newer spaces tend to
include more features that encourage use and
more features that control use. We conclude
that incentive zoning regulations inadvertently
encourages developers to ‘filter’ the uses and
users of public spaces through the manipulation
of different design and management techniques.
In addition, we find that the reforms had no
impact on overall levels of use (as measured using
sociability scores).
No city even approaches the number of POPS
as New York City, and no neighborhoods have
more POPS than Midtown Manhattan (Kayden,
2000). Thus, we limited our study to this
neighborhood and the more residential Upper
East and West sides, while recognizing that
focusing on the POPS experience in any one city
may make our results less generalizable. In
particular, we limited the study area to Commu-
nity Board districts 4 through 8 (see Figure 1).
However, New York City’s incentive zoning
program serves as a model for similar incentive
Figure 1: Map of Manhattan Borough Community Board (CB)
districts. The study area consisted of CB districts 4–8.
Source: NYC Department of Planning.
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zoning programs cities like Denver, San Francisco
and Seattle. New York’s resolution is not only the
oldest, but some consider it the ‘most marked by
mistakes’ (Smithsimon, 2008b, n.p.); as such, we
can learn a lot from its myriad successes and
failures. Our findings can help guide planners
and policymakers to understand how they can
not only encourage better POPS, but perhaps even
mandate better POPS. This issue is particularly
topical: as we write, New York City’s Depart-
ment of Planning is examining new regulations
governing these spaces.
Changing Regulatory Environment for
POPS
While POPS have existed in New York City for
quite some time – Rockefeller Center and Paley
Park are notable examples – the concept of
granting FAR bonuses in exchange for the provi-
sion of space was first introduced as official land
use policy with the adoption of the comprehen-
sive zoning overhaul of 1961. This resolution
introduced the concept of the ‘bonus open space’
to New York City zoning in the form of privately
owned but publicly accessible spaces as a way to
encourage the provision of public open space on
private properties. Bonus open spaces were so
termed because property owners could construct
floor area above the normally permitted max-
imum if they set aside public open space on
their private property. In the 50 years since the
first POPS regulations were adopted, design
and operational standards have been revised
numerous times. Each round of revisions has
seen stricter design and operational requirements,
resulting in a steady improvement in the quality
of POPS. At the same time, POPS regulations
have at times permitted or even encouraged
the privatization of the public space and restric-
tions on the users of these spaces, either through
specific provisions, lax enforcement of POPS
zoning, or a failure to address certain design or
operational issues.
1961 zoning
While the 1961 POPS regulations were revolu-
tionary, the reality was that the provisions were
extraordinarily limited in what they required of
developers and what amenities were permitted in
these spaces. Plazas built pursuant to the 1961
regulations were considered to be as-of-right,
meaning developers could claim the FAR bonus
and construct the bonus plaza without any
meaningful design review or approval by city
agencies. In addition, many of the most basic
design amenities – trees, lighting, seating – were
prohibited within the plaza area while others of
questionable value to users – arbors, canopies,
flagpoles, railings – were permitted but not
required. Compounding the lack of amenities
provided within the plazas was a lack of regula-
tions intended to protect public use and a sense of
safety. For example, there were minimal require-
ments governing plaza location and configura-
tion: plazas were permitted to be sunken up to
12 feet below or elevated up to five feet above
street level, effectively separating the plaza from
the public realm and creating an isolated, aban-
doned space. POPS could also be utilized for
loading, parking, vehicular circulation, trash
removal and building maintenance activities.
Moreover, there were minimal regulations affect-
ing the design of gates and fences used to secure
the plaza and it was not uncommon for spaces
to be secured nightly with locked gates and
fences. Even the identification of POPS as publicly
accessible spaces was not required – and could
arguably have been seen as prohibited, given that
signage was not considered a permitted obstruc-
tion within the plaza area. One hundred sixty-six
plazas were constructed pursuant to the 1961
regulations before the amendments were intro-
duced in 1975. While the regulations could be
seen as a success in generating sheer quantity of
POPS, the effect of the lack of design regulation
and lax enforcement was often lifeless and
Figure 2: 1114 6th Avenue (1971): Example of pre-reform space
(photo by authors).
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desolate plazas that were little more than forlorn
expanses of paving hidden away from view
(see Figure 2).
Subsequent changes to the zoning resolution
introduced additional types of POPS, both
open-air and enclosed; these amendments were
intended to provide a variety of public space on
private properties within high-density commer-
cial and residential districts. These additional
spaces included open-air concourses, sidewalk
widenings, sunken and elevated plazas, and
several types of through-block pedestrian pas-
sages. But the most significant changes to the
regulations governing POPS came in the 1970s
with the replacement of as-of-right plazas with
the urban plaza and residential plaza categories.
Reforms of 1975–1977
The first comprehensive overhaul of the zoning
regulations related to POPS was adopted in 1975.
The zoning resolution (as it pertained to POPS)
had come under scrutiny since the early 1970s,
when urbanist William H. Whyte formally com-
plained to the Planning Department about the
quality of spaces being produced by developers
as a result of the original resolution. In turn,
Whyte and his Street Life Project advised the
Planning Department on what constituted a good
public space. The team used time-lapse photo-
graphy and extensive participant observations to
determine what worked and why, and published
their findings in a seminal book and video,
The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (1980). As
promised, the Planning Department amended the
zoning resolution in the mid-1970s to reflect these
suggestions, and encouraged developers to pro-
vide better-designed spaces with more amenities.
Notably, this amendment explicitly stated that
developers would only receive the higher FAR
bonuses if they provided more usable, higher-
quality POPS.
The ability to construct new as-of-right plazas
in most commercial areas was eliminated and in
their place the Department of City Planning
introduced the urban plaza. Two years later
another revision to the plaza regulations further
reduced the applicability of the 1961 plaza
through the introduction of the residential plaza.
Thirty-nine urban plazas and 59 residential plazas
were constructed before the next significant
round of reform in 2007.
The urban and residential plaza regulations
sought to remedy the deficiencies of the 1961
plazas and create spaces that were attractive and
lively through enhanced design and oversight.
For the first time, all POPS were required to have
a minimum set of amenities including seating,
lighting, plantings and signage identifying the
plaza as public space. Size, orientation, elevation
and configuration of plazas were also strictly
prescribed to ensure they would maximize sun-
light, visibility and accessibility. Unlike the
original as-of-right plazas, urban plazas and,
later, residential plazas were subject to review
and approval by the Department of City Planning,
thereby ensuring at least an initial level of
compliance with POPS provisions. Indeed, the
regulatory reforms of the 1970s generally resulted
in a higher quality POPS. See Figure 3 for a typical
post-reform space.
However, a number of issues combined to affect
the true usability and desirability of many of these
spaces. While the Department of City Planning
was responsible for the drafting and promulga-
tion of zoning related to POPS, enforcement fell to
various other agencies for inspection and imposi-
tion of penalties for noncompliance. Provisions
requiring the posting of performance bonds to
pay for replacement of seating, plantings and
other plaza amenities in the event of a property
owner’s failure to maintain the plaza were often
loosely enforced and rarely, if ever, utilized. The
lack of a regular inspection program or periodic
re-certification of compliance meant that property
owners had free rein to modify design features,
leading to the widespread use of spikes and
railings to prevent seating and the occasional
Figure 3: 745 7th Avenue (2000): Example of post-reform space
(photo by authors).
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outright closure of a plaza to the public via the
erection of gates and fences (see Figure 4).
The advent of urban and residential plazas also
heralded the first regulations permitting in-
creased privatization of POPS. These provisions
ranged from the relatively benign – accessory
signage for businesses fronting the plaza – to
full-scale occupation of POPS with a commercial
enterprise, such as ice skating rinks and amphi-
theaters that charge admission. While no such
skating rinks or amphitheaters were ever con-
structed, more popular were the provisions
permitting the placement of open-air cafe
´sand
kiosks within POPS. To mitigate the risk of
privatization, the cafe
´and kiosk regulations
required separate approval from the Planning
Department that was only valid for three years.
More problematic was the lack of design and
operational guidelines for cafe
´s and kiosks. For
example, regulations were vague in specifying
how cafe
´s could be separated from the larger
plaza area, whether the general public would
be free to use cafe
´tables and chairs if not
purchasing food or drink, and how these areas
would function during the winter months. As a
result, many cafe
´s walled themselves off from
public areas with planters, fabric barriers or even
full enclosures, and began to deny entry to non-
consuming patrons.
Of equal importance to deficiencies in the
regulations and their enforcement were the
numerous areas in which POPS zoning was silent.
For example, the provisions provided no gui-
dance as to whether, and in what manner, a plaza
could be closed or occupied by private events,
or whether security personnel or cameras could
be located within a POPS. There were also no
guidelines for signage posting rules and regula-
tions, which resulted in strict lists of prohibitions
posted in these spaces; some of these occasionally
bordered on the ridiculous, prohibiting activities
such as eating, drinking or drug use. As men-
tioned earlier, the regulations also implicitly
permitted the placement of spikes or bars on
planter ledges and low walls, methods of deter-
ring seating that found their way into many
plazas constructed after the 1970s reforms.
Planners introduced further revisions to the
POPS regulations following the introduction of
urban and residential plazas, the most significant of
which was the adoption of nighttime closing
provisions. Originally, all POPS were required
to be open at all hours to the public and the
residential and urban plaza standards specified
minimum levels of lighting throughout the night.
Beyond the actual closing of the plaza to public use,
the most significant impact of the nighttime closing
provisions was the design and construction of
barriers around plazas. The regulations failed to
describe the appropriate dimensions of such
barriers and did not address what was to be done
with them during daylight hours. Consequently,
manyPOPSendedupringedwithmassive
fortifications at night that remained in place during
the day, perhaps with one section removed for
public access, or were folded into equally massive
stanchions located along the sidewalk line. Still, no
research has specifically examined the impact of
the original mid-1970s reforms. Are spaces built
before these reforms more or less controlled than
those built after? What has been the real effect of
these regulatory changes?
Methods
We examine 123 POPS (47 constructed before the
mid-1970s reforms, 76 built after the reforms) to
determine how and in what manner policy
changes affected the function and management
of these spaces. To do so, we utilize an index that
operationalizes levels of control or openness in
publicly accessible space (Ne
´meth and Schmidt,
2007), as discussed earlier. The index groups
spatial management techniques into 10 that
encourage freedom of access, use and behavior,
and 10 that actively discourage freedom of
access, use or behavior (see Table 1 for a list, but
see Appendices A and B for a full description).
Note that each approach (Laws/Rules, Design/
Figure 4: Example of pre-reform space with spikes on ledges to
deter loiterers (photo by authors).
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Image, Accessibility/Territoriality, Surveillance/
Policing) has variables that both encourage and
discourage use. The index quantifies directly
observable indicators in order to be as objective
as possible. As such, it employs a scoring rubric
(0, 1 or 2) based on the presence and intensity of
each separate variable. The total index score for
any given space is simply the total for features
discouraging use subtracted from the total for
features encouraging use. The highest overall score
is a 20 (most encouraging/least controlled), the
lowest is a 20 (least encouraging/most contro-
lled), while 0 implies a perfectly neutral score.
In this research, we ask four questions. First,
what effect did the reforms have on the physical
characteristics and management of POPS? Are
POPS designed after the reforms more open or
more controlling in terms of access and behavior?
Similarly, if post or pre-reform spaces are more
restrictive, is it because such spaces actively
discourage or exclude users, or do they simply
fail to encourage use?
Second, which approaches are used to achieve
these goals? For example, if spaces are becoming
more restrictive or discouraging, is it because of
an increase in the use of surveillance, or is it due
to increasingly stringent rules and regulations?
Third, how have the reforms affected the
space’s sociability? We scored each space using
a methodology to discern the sociability (defined
as use or potential use of a space) developed
by Kayden (2000), in which each space is then
given a score ranging from the least sociable
(‘marginal’) to the most sociable (‘destination’).
Kayden (2000) had applied a score to 85 per cent
of the POPS in question (those constructed
through 2000). Our own assessments of the 14
post-2000 spaces took place over one week in
April 2011. Two assessors with knowledge of and
training in the methodology visited each space
twice on separate weekdays, once in the morning
and once in the evening. Weather and other
confounding conditions were not as germane to
the analysis since the methodology examines a
space’s potential use. If scores differed between
assessors, the higher score applied to better reflect
the potential use.
Fourth, what is the nature of the relationship, if
any, between the level of FAR bonus received
by a developer and security, openness or ‘socia-
bility’ (Kayden, 2000) of the space provided? For
example, are owners and managers of POPS with
higher FAR bonuses more likely to encourage
use? If so, what approaches (design, access) do
they utilize or implement to do so?
To compare all measures across pre- and
post-reform spaces – more precisely, to deter-
mine whether or not statistically significant
Table 1: Index of control/management measures (Ne
´meth and Schmidt, 2007)
Approach
Features encouraging use
Sign announcing ‘public space’ Laws/Rules
At a commercial building Surveillance/Policing
Restroom available Design/Image
Diversity of seating types Design/Image
Various microclimates Design/Image
Lighting to encourage nighttime use Design/Image
Small-scale food consumption Design/Image
Art/cultural/visual enhancement Design/Image
Entrance accessibility Access/Territoriality
Orientation accessibility Access/Territoriality
Features controlling use
Visible sets of rules posted Laws/Rules
Subjective/judgment rules posted Laws/Rules
In business improvement district (BID) Surveillance/Policing
Security cameras Surveillance/Policing
Security personnel Surveillance/Policing
Secondary security personnel Surveillance/Policing
Design to control behavior/imply appropriate use Design/Image
Presence of sponsor/advertisement Design/Image
Areas of restricted or conditional use Access/Territoriality
Constrained hours of operation Access/Territoriality
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differences existed among the results – we used
the Mann-Whitney Utest, also called the Wilcox-
on–Mann–Whitney test, a non-parametric test
for assessing whether two independent samples
of ordinal observations come from the same
distribution.
Results
We present the results in separate layers of
analysis. In the first analysis, we compare the
total index score for POPS constructed before and
after the reforms. In addition, we compared pre-
and post-reform scores for those features that
encourage use and those that discourage use. We
found no statistically significant difference be-
tween the scores for features discouraging use,
encouraging use or for the total index score before
and after the reforms. This implies that there is no
change in the overall level of openness of POPS
constructed before and after the reforms. Although
the difference was insignificant, it is worth noting
that the mean rank score for features encouraging
and discouraging use increased in the post-reform
period. According to the index scale, a higher score
indicates a greater use of features that encourage
use, such as benches or lighting or discouraging
use, such as the presence of security cameras. This
implies that post-reform spaces are also more
likely than pre-reform spaces to both actively
encourage and discourage use (Table 2).
Further disaggregating the analysis, we find
a statistically significant difference between
pre- and post-reform spaces for the various
approaches listed in Table 3. We find that spaces
constructed before the reforms are significantly
more accessible than post-reform spaces (the
Table 2: Mean index score for pre- and post-reform POPS: Encourage versus discourage
Dimension Mean rank
Pre-reform spaces Post-reform spaces Mann-Whitney U P-value (2 tail)
Total score 59.63 63.47 1674.5 0.562
Features encouraging use 55.95 65.74 1501.5 0.138
Features discouraging use 59.02 63.84 1646 0.462
Abbreviation: POPS, publicly owner public space.
Table 3: Mean index score for pre- and post-reform POPS: Dimensions
Dimension Mean rank
Pre-reform spaces Post-reform spaces Mann-Whitney U P-value (2 tail)
Surveillance/Policing
Encouraging use**
75.52 53.64 1150 0.000
Surveillance/Policing
Discouraging use
60.82 62.73 1730.5 0.772
Design/Image
Encouraging use**
53.80 67.07 1400 0.043
Design/Image
Discouraging use
66.30 59.34 1584 0.278
Laws/Rules
Encouraging use**
45.38 72.28 1005 0.000
Laws/Rules
Discouraging use**
53.52 67.24 1387.5 0.006
Accessibility
Encouraging use*
68.29 58.11 1490.5 0.099
Accessibility
Discouraging use*
57.11 65.03 1556 0.010
Sociability 57.86 60.58 1591 0.666
*Results significant at the 0.10 level.
**Results significant at the 0.05 level.
Abbreviation: POPS, publicly owner public space.
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AUTHOR COPY
mean rank score is higher). This suggests that pre-
reform spaces are better oriented toward
the public sidewalk, are less likely to use gates,
doors or other threshold controls, and are less
likely to have nighttime closures. The mean rank
for accessibility features discouraging use (for
example, constrained hours of operation or the
inclusion of areas of restricted or conditional use)
increase for post-reform spaces (see Figure 5).
These findings are expected given that the
reforms to allow for closures during parts of the
day (see discussion above).
On the other hand, post-reform spaces score
significantly higher for design or image-related
features encouraging use – bathrooms, lighting,
food carts/cafe
´s, art, seating and other design
amenities, than pre-reform spaces (see Figure 6).
Post-reform spaces also score significantly higher
for including laws and rules encouraging use.
For example, they are more likely to have signs
introducing the space as publicly accessible,
which is not surprising, as all spaces built since
the reforms are now required to have such a sign
(Kayden, 2000). However, post-reform spaces are
also more likely to post rules and regulations that
control how a space is used, and by whom. These
rules include not only objective, universal rules
(for example, no smoking) but also those that are
subjectively enforced (for example, those rules
barring any inappropriate behavior or attire).
Figure 7 presents such a case.
We also examined the relationship between
sociability and the mid-1970s reforms: we find
no significant difference between pre- and post-
reform spaces on this measure. This is certainly
surprising, so as a further test we examined the
correlations between a space’s sociability score
and the score for each of the management
approaches discussed earlier and also found no
significant relationships. All the subsequent r
values were low (less than 0.2), but it is interesting
to note that the highest positive correlations
were between the sociability score and features
that encourage use (r¼0.17), specifically design
features (r¼.17) and laws (r¼.14) that encourage
use. Although this indicates some relationship
between physical space and sociability, it does
suggest that additional factors affect how a space
is used, not just the built or regulatory environ-
ment or the management of the space. Another
interpretation is that the impact of the reforms,
both in terms of discouraging and encouraging
use, are in effect canceling each other out, so that
Figure 5: 407 Park Avenue South (1984): Example of post-
reform space with decreased accessibility (photo by authors).
Figure 6: 1285 6th Avenue (1984:) Example of post-reform
space with increased use of design elements (photo by
authors).
Figure 7: 590 Madison Avenue (1982): Example of post-reform
space with both objective and subjective rules posted (photo by
authors).
Schmidt et al
278 r2011 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 1357-5317 URBAN DESIGN International Vol. 16, 4, 270–284
AUTHOR COPY
in the long term there has been no major impact
on the overall use of spaces.
We conclude that post-reform spaces encourage
more use through the introduction of design
features (such as the provision of seating and
lighting) and through increased signage (that is,
the inclusion of a sign indicating public space),
but discourage use by decreasing accessibility and
increasing the amount of subjective rules and
laws. Interestingly, the increased use of security
personnel or cameras was not significant; we
expected to find the opposite. This could be
because older spaces have been retrofitted with
cameras and personnel. This analysis comports
with our earlier discussion, namely there have
been an increase in features and approaches that
both encourage and discourage use due to the
reforms.
Finally, we examined the correlation between
the FAR bonus awarded each space
1
and that
space’s ‘openness’ score on each approach. Recall
that the Department of City Planning grants extra
floor area to developers, but gains a publicly
accessible space, albeit one that is privately
owned. The Department of City Planning can
reward developers who provide ‘better’ spaces –
those with more amenities and higher quality
environments – with higher FAR bonuses. The
assumption is that spaces with higher FAR
bonuses should be more encouraging of use than
those with lower FAR bonuses. Table 4 presents
the Pearson’s Rcorrelation values. We point out a
few notable findings, all of which were expected
given the literature on POPS.
First, while all the correlations are generally
rather low, most are positively correlated,
meaning that as FAR bonuses increase, so do the
presence of these measures. The zoning resolution
is successful insofar as it is correlated with
features that encourage use (r¼.202); that is, it is
clearly having the desired effect of creating more
user-friendly spaces. In addition, we examined
the relationship between FAR and the sociability
score. The moderately strong correlation between
FAR and sociability (r¼0.283) demonstrate that
the city has, on balance, prioritized spaces that are
more sociable and well-used.
However, FAR bonuses are also correlated
with features that discourage use, although the
relationship is weaker (r¼.067). Moreover, the
relationship between FAR and approaches that
encourage use (for example, signage, benches,
access) are generally stronger than the relation-
ship between FAR and approaches that discou-
rage use (for example, security guards, spikes
on ledges). Even in the latter case, however, the
relationship is still positive. Thus the policy
appears to reward developers with higher FARs
if they introduce extensive amenities, but these
spaces also contain features that discourage
certain uses and users. In addition, it is worth
noting that the relationship between FAR and age
is positive and moderately strong (r¼0.471)
indicating that newer, post-reform spaces (that
is, those that are more amenity filled) receive
higher FAR bonuses in general. This is not that
surprising, as the resolution requires all post-
reform spaces to have certain amenities.
Conclusion
The analysis reveals no statistically significant
difference in the degree and amount of spatial
control in POPS over time, nor a major change
in the sociability or use of POPS, a somewhat
surprising result. We do find that post-reform
POPS tend to employ many features which
both encourage use, a finding consistent with
earlier research (Ne
´meth, 2009). In this regard, the
increasing reliance on the private sector to
provide publicly accessible spaces encourages
the creation of increasingly busy, highly pro-
grammed ‘festival’ spaces (Sorkin, 1992) in which
designers employ an array of techniques, tools
and activities to manipulate and program use and
behavior. Furthermore, once the index score is
disaggregated, the results are quite revealing.
Post-reform POPS tend to discourage use through
increased regulatory and access restrictions (such
as constrained hours of operation or the inclusion
Table 4: Correlations between FAR bonus and presence of
management features
Approach Pearson’s r-value
Features encouraging use 0.202
Features discouraging use 0.067
Surveillance/policing encouraging use 0.063
Surveillance/policing discouraging use 0.017
Design/image encouraging use 0.182
Design/image discouraging use 0.117
Laws/rules encouraging use 0.179
Laws/rules discouraging use 0.098
Access/territoriality encouraging use 0.150
Access/territoriality discouraging use 0.165
Age 0.471
Sociability (from Kayden, 2000) 0.253
Abbreviation: FAR, floor area ratio.
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of areas of restricted or conditional use), but also
encourage use through the introduction of design
features (such as the provision of seating and
lighting) and signage (see Figure 8). These
findings are consistent with Smithsimon’s work
(2008b), which suggests that ‘developers have
stopped building spaces that exclude through
their physical design’ alone (n.p.).
The amendments of the mid-1970s brought
about a fundamental change in the manner in
which POPS were spatially organized. Specifi-
cally, some of the deficiencies of the previous
regulations were corrected, as seating, planting,
trees and signage were now required, ultimately
making these spaces more attractive. The interac-
tion between the changing policy environment
and developer priorities appears to have led to an
increase in an overreliance on programmed
elements and other legal and design interventions
to signal appropriate behavior and use of the
space. This shift invites criticism over exactly how
‘public’ these public spaces really are.
While these reforms laudably attempted to
improve the inclusiveness of the often barren,
as-of-right spaces being produced by developers,
they actually served to create a different type
of ‘filtered’ space open only to those deemed
desirable or appropriate. These spaces are physi-
cally open to the public but remain exclusive:
‘there are no walls, but the imperial personnel
and the peasants are still separated’ (Smithsimon,
2008b, n.p.). As our empirical research has con-
firmed, this filtering of uses and users has been
encouraged, or even exacerbated, by the 1970s
reforms. The reforms encouraged developers to
include public amenities, these amenities increased
use, and these now popular spaces needed to be
stringently policed and controlled lest the ‘wrong
kind of user’ occupy the space.
2
This filtering of space implies that certain
management techniques sort users to ensure an
appropriate audience. These spaces encourage
public use by introducing design amenities like
fountains, trees and restrooms and implementing
features to promote retail consumption. As many
higher-end chain retailers interpret the public
space as an extension of the private, desiring a
clean and familiar environment to attract custo-
mers, managers of filtered spaces encourage
consumption by limiting access to non-consumers
(for example, homeless persons, young people)
while attracting potential customers through
the use of amenities and other visual stimuli
(Boyer, 1992; Crawford, 1992; Schmidt, 2004).
These strategies work well, but as mentioned
above, managers are required to post sets of rules
governing desirable use, many of which are
subjective in nature, and judgments as to who
belongs and who does not are made by the
property manager or security guard on duty
(Ne
´meth, 2009). In some cases, these managers
have been known to rent out these ostensibly
public squares for corporate or commercial events
lasting several days or weeks in a row, such as the
case in the annual Bryant Park Fashion Show in
New York City.
Interestingly, many publicly owned parks and
plazas have been subject to a similar criticism
as POPS have received, proving that the line
separating POPS and publicly owned spaces is
increasingly blurred (Banerjee, 2001). Indeed, a
recent study also drawing on empirical evidence
from New York City showed that both types of
spaces use similar measures to attract and retain
users (Ne
´meth and Schmidt, 2011). But still POPS
serve as a harbinger of things to come, as they are
designed and managed by private developers
speculating on what form the city will take (and
who will be included in its use) (Smithsimon,
2008b). If current economic woes continue to
threaten already cash-strapped city coffers, then
planning departments will undoubtedly continue
to leverage public goods from the private sector.
Postscript
The results of this study are particularly timely, as
recent action by the Department of City Planning
Figure 8: 1325 6th Avenue (1989): Example of post-reform
space with both increased amenities and increased electronic
surveillance (photo by authors).
Schmidt et al
280 r2011 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 1357-5317 URBAN DESIGN International Vol. 16, 4, 270–284
AUTHOR COPY
has addressed the increased use of access restric-
tions in particular. In 2007, the Department of City
Planning undertook another significant round of
reform on the design guidelines governing the
city’s POPS. The revisions removed the ability
to construct new residential or urban plazas
and consolidated all plaza regulations into a
new plaza type called the public plaza. The new
regulations address many of the deficiencies
found in earlier zoning and the public plaza
provisions affect nearly every part of the incentive
zoning resolution. Most relevant for this study,
the new regulations are significantly stricter in
their treatment of design elements that impact
perceptions of safety, security and privatization of
the public space. For example, open air cafe
´s may
no longer be separated from the surrounding
plaza and must have their approved boundaries
clearly marked on the ground. Similarly, barriers
used to close a plaza at night are now limited to
five feet in height and must be completely
removed from the plaza during hours of public
access. We are encouraged by the active steps
taken by the Department of City Planning to
modify the regulations in the face of mounting
evidence that a new round of reforms might be
necessary.
Acknowledgement
Partial funding for this research was provided by
the University of Colorado’s Center for Interna-
tional Business Education and Research (CIBER).
Notes
1 Since some buildings have more than one POPS at them, and
since each POPS is ‘bonused’ at a different rate, the FAR
number we use in this calculation represents FAR per square
foot at each building.
2 More research is needed to better understand the link
between user preference and levels of control. In particular,
future work should attempt to understand whether users
actually prefer more controlled spaces, something which has
been suggested elsewhere (Day, 1999).
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Table A1: Index variables
Approach Scoring criteria
Features that control users
Visible sets of rules posted Laws/Rules 0=none present
1=one sign or posting
2=two or more signs
Subjective/judgment rules posted Laws/Rules 0=none present
1=one rule visibly posted
2=two or more rules visibly posted
In business improvement district
(BID)
Surveillance/Policing 0=not in a BID
1=in a BID with maintenance duties only
2=in a BID with maintenance and security duties
Security cameras Surveillance/Policing 0=none present
1=one stationary camera
2=two or more stationary cameras or any panning/moving camera
Security personnel Surveillance/Policing 0=none present
1=one private security guard or up to two public security personnel
2=two or more private security or more than two public personnel
Secondary security personnel Surveillance/Policing 0=none present
1=one person or space oriented toward reception
2=two or more persons or one person w/space oriented at reception
Design to imply appropriate use Design/Image 0=none present
1=only one or two major examples
2=several examples throughout space
Presence of sponsor/
advertisement
Design/Image 0=none present
1=one medium sign or several small signs
2=large sign or two or more signs
Areas of restricted or conditional
use
Access/Territoriality 0=none present
1=one small area restricted to certain members of the public
2=large area for consumers only or several smaller restricted areas
Constrained hours of operation Access/Territoriality 0=open 24 hours/day, seven days/week, most days of year
1=at least part of space open past business hours or on weekends
2=open only during business hours, or portions permanently closed
Features encouraging freedom of use
Sign announcing ‘public space’ Laws/Rules 0=none present
1=one small sign
2=one large sign or two or more signs
Public ownership/management Surveillance/Policing 0=privately owned and privately managed
1=publicly owned and privately managed
2=publicly owned and publicly managed
Restroom available Design/Image 0=none present
1=available for customers only or difficult to access
2=readily available to all
Diversity of seating types Design/Image 0=no seating
1=only one type of stationary seating
2=two or more types of seating or substantial movable seating
Various microclimates Design/Image 0=no sun or no shade or fully exposed to wind
1=some sun/shade, overhangs/shielding from wind and rain
2=several distinct microclimates, extensive overhangs, trees
Lighting to encourage nighttime
use
Design/Image 0=none present
1=one type or style of lighting
2=several lighting types (e.g. soft lighting, overhead, lampposts)
Appendix A
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Appendix B
Table A1 continued
Approach Scoring criteria
Small-scale food consumption Design/Image 0=none present
1=one basic kiosk or stand
2=two or more kiosks/stands or one larger take-out stand
Art/cultural/visual enhancement Design/Image 0=none present
1=one or two minor installations, statues or fountains
2=one major interactive installation or frequent free performances
Entrance accessibility Access/Territoriality 0=gated or key access only, and at all times
1=one constricted entry or several entries through doors/gates only
2=more than one entrance without gates
Orientation accessibility Access/Territoriality 0=not on street level or blocked off from public sidewalk
1=street-level but oriented away from public sidewalk
2=visible with access off sidewalk (or fewer than 5 steps up/down)
Table B1: Variable definitions: Features that control users
Laws/Rules
Visible sets of rules posted Official, visible signs listing sets of rules and regulations (not individual rules) on permanent plaques
or ‘table tents’. Listed rules should generally be objective and easily enforceable, like prohibitions
against smoking, sitting on ledges, passing out flyers without permit, or drinking alcohol.
Subjective/judgment rules
posted
Official, visible signs listing individual rules describing activities prohibited after personal evaluations
and judgments of desirability by owners, managers or security guards. Such rules include: no
disorderly behavior, no disturbing other users, no loitering, no oversized baggage or appropriate
attire required.
Surveillance/Policing
In business improvement
district (BID)
Spaces located in business improvement districts (BIDs) are more likely to have electronic surveillance
and private security guards, and less likely to include public input into decisions regarding park
management. BIDs can employ roving guards to patrol especially problematic neighborhood
spaces.
Security cameras Although cameras must be visible to observer to be counted, many cameras are hidden from view.
Cameras are often located inside buildings or on surrounding buildings but are oriented toward
space. Stationary cameras are more common, often less intimidating than moving/panning
cameras.
Security personnel Scoring dependent on time of visit. Publicly funded police, park rangers, private security guards. For
index, score only when security is dedicated to space. Since private security only directed by
property owner, often more controlling (and score higher on index) since police trained more
uniformly.
Secondary security
personnel
Scoring dependent on time of visit. Includes maintenance staff, doorpersons, reception, cafe
´or
restaurant employees, bathroom attendants. Also, spaces often oriented directly toward windowed
reception or information area to ensure constant employee supervision.
Design/Image
Design to imply
appropriate use
Small-scale design to control user behavior or imply appropriate use. Examples might include: metal
spikes on ledges; walls, barriers, bollards to constrict circulation or to direct pedestrian flow; rolled,
canted, or overly narrow and unsittable ledges; or crossbars on benches to deter reclining.
Presence of sponsor/
advertisement
Signs, symbols, banners, umbrellas, plaques tied to space’s infrastructure, not to immediate services
provided (eg cafe
´s, kiosks). While non-advertised space is important for seeking diversion from city
life, sponsored signs/plaques can push sponsors to dedicate resources for upkeep since company
name is visible.
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Table B1 continued
Access/Territoriality
Areas of restricted/
conditional use
Portions of space off-limits during certain times of day, days of week or portions of year. Can also refer
to seating/tables only open to cafe
´patrons, bars open only to adults, dog parks, playgrounds,
corporate events open to shareholders only, spaces for employees of surrounding buildings only.
Constrained hours of
operation
While some spaces are permitted to close certain hours of day, spaces not open 24 hours inherently
restrict usage to particular population. Also, while usually due to lack of adequate supervision,
spaces open only during weekday business hours clearly prioritize employee use over general
public.
Table B2: Variable definitions: Features that encourage freedom of use
Laws/Rules
Sign announcing public
space
Most zoning codes require publicly accessible spaces to exhibit plaques indicating such. Some spaces
are clearly marked with signs denoting their public nature (for example, New York’s Sony Plaza), but
when a sign or plaque is hidden by trees/shrubs or has graffiti covering it, its intent becomes null.
Surveillance/Policing
Public ownership/
management
Could fall in ‘laws/rules’ approach, but more likely to impact type/amount of security, electronic
surveillance in a space. Management often by conservancy or restoration corporation. Spaces can be:
publicly owned/publicly managed, publicly owned/privately managed, or privately owned/
privately managed.
Design/Image
Restroom available Clearly some spaces are not large enough to merit public restroom. Realizing that free public restrooms
often attract homeless persons, managers often remove them altogether or locate them in onsite cafe
´s
or galleries available to paying customers only (or providing keyed access for ‘desirable’ patrons).
Diversity of seating types Amount of seating is often most important factor for encouraging use of public space. Users often
evaluate entry to space based on amount of available seating and ability to create varying ‘social
distances’. Movable chairs allow maximum flexibility and personal control in seating choice.
Various microclimates Spaces with various microclimate enclaves enlarge choice and personal control for users. Potential
features might include: shielding from wind; overhangs to protect from rain; areas receiving both sun
and shade during day; or trees/shrubs/grass to provide connection with natural landscape.
Lighting to encourage
nighttime use
Studies indicate that vulnerable populations often avoid public spaces at night if not well-lit. Lighting
spaces encourage 24-hour use, which has been shown to make visitors feel safer/more secure.
However, critics argue that night lighting aids surveillance efforts and implies authoritative control.
Small-scale food
consumption
Most agree that food vendors enhance activity and vitality. This variable only includes small cafe
´s,
kiosks, carts or stands selling food, drinks or simple convenience items. Sit-down restaurants,
clothing stores and other full-scale retail establishments are not described by this variable.
Art/cultural/visual
enhancement
Art and aesthetic attraction can encourage use. Variable can include stationary visual enhancements like
statues, fountains or sculptures, also rotating art exhibits, public performances, farmers’ markets,
street fairs. Interactive features encourage use and personal control by curious patrons (often
children).
Access/Territoriality
Entrance accessibility If a space has locked doors or gates, requires a key to enter, or has only one constricted entry, it often
feels more controlled or private than one with several non-gated entrances. In indoor spaces where
users must enter through doors or past checkpoints, symbolic access and freedom of use diminished.
Orientation accessibility Spaces must be well-integrated with sidewalk and street, as those oriented away from surrounding
sidewalk, or located several feet above or below street level, make space less inviting. Well-used
spaces are clearly visible from sidewalk and users should be able to view surrounding public activity.
Schmidt et al
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... Existing research on club goods focuses more on how to maintain the publicness of club goods such as privately-owned public spaces (Schmidt et al., 2011), to efficiently manage common resources through internal entitlement allocation, negotiation, or bargaining (Slaev and Collier, 2018), or to minimize clubs' negative externalities or to correct market actions through collective approaches (Prakash and Potoski, 2012;Slaev and Daskalova, 2020). However, less attention is paid to how public policies, especially the way the policies are designed, may influence club goods' thriving. ...
... Some of these collaborative provisions adopt a club good approach. For example, in New York City, privately-owned public spaces, including many greenspaces, are club goods when they are owned and managed by private developers, and the public access is limited (Schmidt et al., 2011). These spaces have become an important component of urban public spaces in cities with severe land-use conflict. ...
... Governments are also concerned about club good's social injustice, which can be understood from the aspects of profit-driven motivation and limited accessibility (Schmidt et al., 2011). Though a club good approach can match club-members' interests with service delivery, it features exclusiveness and small scale, and may not be sufficient to support a sustainable landscape at a broader scope. ...
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... To provide residents with much-needed leisure space, the development of Privately-Owned Publicly-accessible Spaces (POPS) is an increasingly common request from urban planning and development boards. In the City of Toronto, building developers negotiate for building code exemptions (such as increased floor area, taller maximum height, reduced building setbacks, etc.) in exchange for private funding towards city parks, recreation, or the creation of POPS on their development footprint (Schmidt et al. 2011, Moore 2013. Established in 2013, Toronto POPS guidelines can be functionally classified into six categories: courtyards, plazas, gardens, forecourts, sidewalk landscaping, and pedestrian walkways. ...
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Urban plant biodiversity is a growing ecological concern for city planners and ecologists. While parks are serviced by the public sector, and yards are pruned by the private citizen, a growing proportion of urban green space is managed by corporations. Despite biodiversity targets set by city councils and public committees, actual plant surveys have not been performed. Employing coordinate data of Privately-Owned Publicly-accessible Spaces (POPS) from the City of Toronto, we sampled plant species richness in nine corporately-managed green spaces. Using linear mixed-effect models, we compared richness with various green space characteristics and found that site area is an important predictor. Our results concur with prior studies showing that habitat area may cause significant impacts to urbanized plant biodiversity.
... The privatization of public space has accelerated through the closing or reuse of public parks, the creation of business improvement districts (BIDs), the transfer of air rights for building privately owned public spaces, and the development of shopping malls and gated communities (Low & Smith, 2006, p. 82). In the early 1990s, the private sector was encouraged by the public sector to provide POPS, through the liberation of building rights and density bonuses (Bodnar, 2015;Carmona, 2010a;Kayden, 2000;Németh, 2009;Schlack, 2015;Schmidt et al., 2011). New ...
Thesis
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