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Urine-Nation: Building Codes

Helping New Yorker's in navigating the city's public and private restrooms.

Building Codes, Privately Owned Public Spaces

To build a taller building than specific site codes allow, New York City allows additional height allotments to edifices that provide accessible public amenities. For this reason, some ambitious builders desiring the largest height allotments include public restrooms in the building plans. Known as Privately Owned Public Spaces - or POPS - these areas are typically pedestrian thoroughfares with places to sit and people-watch. While you are moving about the city, look for the POPS symbol below to identify POPS on the move.

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After a wave of looming skyscrapers rendered sidewalks below permanently enshadowed, the New York City Zoning Commission proposed the 1961 Zoning Regulation, allowing for additional floor area in high-density districts for buildings that included accessible plazas or arcades for the public. Many cities followed suit, allocating subsidies to reclaim some public space in downtown commercial sectors. By 1975, it was clear that developers were doing the bare minimum to meet zoning standards, attempting to pass off swaths of barren pavement as usable public space. The zoning board then passed the “Urban Open Space” Amendment, requiring POPS buildings promote usability of their space, determined by approval from the planning committee. Accessibility and design concerns inspired the 2007 reconfiguration of POPS requirements, as many POPS included elements of hostile design that rendered the spaces uncomfortable.

Follow this link to learn more about the history of POPS in New York City.

An interactive map of POPS can be found in the Maps section of this guide.