Secret open spaces may become more public

Ever wish you could just get away from the concrete wasteland of Downtown SF? Wish you could escape to an urban oasis, sit on a rooftop terrace under the shade of trees and umbrellas sipping a coffee? Well guess what? You can.

There are dozens of public open spaces scattered around downtown San Francisco, but nearly no one knows about them. San Francisco Supervisor David Chiu wants to change that.

The POPOs, or privately owned public open spaces, include plazas, terraces and small parks. They were created, mostly downtown, because of a 1985 city law that requires developers to include these spaces in tandem with new office buildings and hotels. The businesses are responsible for taking care of the grounds and displaying proper signage to alert the public of the free open spaces.

The problem is the plaques outside the POPOs aren’t usually visible to the naked eye, especially if you don’t know what you are looking for.

For example, there is a POPO on the 11th-floor terrace at 1 Kearny Street, an 1,800-square-foot space above Market Street with 270-degree views. There is a sign by the entrance of the building, but it must be marketed toward toddlers because it’s at knee-level and etched in glass.

Following a recent outcry over the lack of public knowledge on public spaces, ABC 7 said Chiu is crafting a measure that would require improved signage outside such spaces. Other supervisors have shown their support for Chiu including Supervisor Scott Wiener who told the The Chronicle:

“If The City’s purpose is to insert small spaces into the downtown, we need to make sure that true public access and (adequate) signage are in place. In our day-to-day life it’s often the smaller public spaces that are more important in terms of interaction with people and building community.”

In 2009 a report by the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association counted 68 of what it calls the “city’s best kept secrets.” Spokesperson Sarah Karlinsky told The Chronicle:

“The way they function as public spaces is only as good as people utilize them, so if no one knows about them and no one talks about them, they don’t serve their intended purpose.”

If you want to see any of these secret urban oasis spots for yourself, check out the this map and smart phone app of all corporate spaces created in downtown SF between 1960 and 2009.