This week's Explainer touches on an issue that's recently been at the forefront of Toronto's civic discourse. More commonly referred to by the acronym 'POPS,' the inclusion of Privately Owned Publicly-accessible Space has become a common element of the city's recent high-rise development. As in a number of other growing cities—including New York, Seattle, and Seoul, where POPS are also used—the scarcity of public space is increasingly acutely felt as population densities rise.

A presentation for Rail Deck Park highlights the lack of park space in Downtown Toronto, image via the City of Toronto

With growing cities striving to add new parkland and expand public space, harnessing the market forces of development can play an important role. In Toronto, the viability of recently announced projects such as the aspirational Rail Deck Park is significantly contingent on the accumulation of park-in-lieu funds, also known as Section 42 parkland levies. For developments without an on-site park dedication, the City's purchase of off-site public space can be funded by Section 42 monies. If approved, Ward 20's proposed Entertainment District park would also be acquired through this provision. 

Despite accumulating funds to purchase enough land to create new parks, cities are also trying to expand public space at the foot of new developments. These are often smaller spaces that may not be identified as parks by the public, but which may still be inviting as places to relax and enjoy the surroundings, such as a piazza with a fountain or artwork or landscaping opening off of a sidewalk. This is the type of space that cities are now adding as POPS via legal agreements with developers. With the enforcement of public accessibility recently coming under the spotlight in Toronto—with two central POPS locations given over to restaurant patios—understanding the nature of the POPS framework has become crucial to vigilant civic engagement. To that end, our sister site,, offers an overview of the term: 

The Iceboat Terrace POPS in CityPlace, image by Marcus Mitanis

As real estate developers gobble up the remaining parcels of available land in the world's ever-expanding cities, local officials are faced with a growing dilemma: how can room be made for public spaces? With skyscrapers reaching new heights, the ground-level experience and public realm can often appear to be an afterthought. And as cities wrestle with meeting budgetary demands, the provision of designated public spaces, such as plazas and parks, can be an expensive undertaking. 

You can find the rest of the story on our sister site,