It’s a sunny Thursday afternoon, and San Franciscans are perched at cafe tables enjoying lunch 15 floors above the city’s Financial District. A small slice of the bay can be seen in the distance. High above downtown’s noise and grit, this relaxing sun terrace is tucked away out of sight.
You don’t have to be a member of some exclusive club to enjoy this.
Once you find this lovely roof garden on the 15th floor at 343 Sansome Street, you’re welcome to stay a while. It’s one of San Francisco’s 68 privately-owned public open spaces, known as “POPOS” for short.
POPOS, while privately owned, are open to the public. Between 1959 and 1985, 45 were created throughout the city. Since the 1985 Downtown Plan, all developers constructing new buildings in downtown SF are required to provide spaces accessible to the public.
The plan was developed as a way to protect the city’s “delicate ambiance” in response to citizens’ concerns that rapid growth was destroying the area’s natural beauty. The concern also was, as the New York Times put it in July 1985, that “office building construction will turn SF into too much of a white-collar city, make it too expensive and eliminate its celebrated ethnic mix.”
The Downtown Plan protected 251 architecturally or historically important buildings from demolition and shifted development from SF’s Financial District to SoMa (South of Market). The plan also includes a Public Arts Program that requires all new developments provide public art equal to at least 1% of the total construction cost.
San Francisco’s POPOS range from roof gardens and a redwood park to modest lobby seating. The newest of these POPOS, located in the lobby of the LinkedIn skyscraper at 222 Second St, has an impressive polished wood interior with a cafe, long rectangular wooden tables and Bertoia chairs.
Walking around downtown SF you may notice subtle “Public Open Space” signs on certain buildings. But the signs are often tucked away and not always obvious. Many efforts have been made to help raise public awareness of these community spaces:
Unfortunately, the app no longer exists, but read on for a list of some wonderful spaces.
POPOS with free wifi
And here are some quick bullets from a 2009 assessment on the 1985 Downtown Plan:
SF POPOS are a great resource for digital nomads, remotes, and freelancers. Let us know when you find a space that’s great to work in!