City of Toronto Undertaking POPS Study

Published On: 9 October 2014


The City of Toronto has recently embarked on the mapping of POPS, otherwise known as Privately Owned/Public Spaces.’  ‘The City says POPS are not meant to replace new public spaces but to help balance density and provide a reprieve from the bustle of city living.’ The mapping of POPS currently exists throughout the city though it has not been fully realized.  They are seeking to establish guidelines for development of these spaces.  They are seen as an augmentation, not as a replacement for, true designated public spaces that are owned by the City.

It will be interesting to see, as emphasis on these spaces grows, how the City will approach their creation and what will be mandated to developers.  Will participation in privately held open space creation absolve developers of some of the current requirements to provide parkland?  Reading between the lines on this begs the question of how far the City can go in requiring such spaces.  Who absorbs the liabilities related to these spaces?  Who polices these spaces and decides who can and cannot use them and for what purposes?

I don’t want to sound like a pessimist here.  I think the idea of promoting POPS works on so many levels in trying to create a dynamic city where less and less open space seems to be available to the inhabitants.  Accessibility to these spaces by the public at large can only be seen as a positive thing.

‘Cheryl Atkinson, an architect and associate professor at Ryerson University, says the increasing density downtown is not the only driving force behind the demand for new public space; there has also been a change in Torontonians’ attitude toward public space. “It’s completely evident if you spend an evening at Trinity Bellwoods Park how differently people use public space now than they did 25 years ago,” says Ms. Atkinson, who led a recent study, called A History of Public Space in Toronto.’

‘Back then, most people would typically go to the park with their family on the weekend. Today, many urban residents are actively using public spaces for daily activities – hanging out with friends, eating dinner, exercising, reading a book. The public realm has essentially become an extension of their homes. Ms. Atkinson says this is partly out of necessity, due to the shrinking size of dwellings, but also out of a desire to live an “urban life,” which depends on public amenities.’

I look forward to following the implementation of the POPS program here in Toronto.  I see this as a very positive step forward in shaping the ideal environment for individuals, families and private stakeholders to live thrive and co-exist in our dense downtown.  Even the first stage of implementation, the simple act of placing signage to acknowledge the existence of a space as a POPS, is encouraging.

With input from The Globe and Mail, ‘Private space or public park? Revealing Toronto’s in-between spots’, September 27, 2013