People, Place and Public Space: The Power of Privately Owned Public Space (POPS)

“Privately Owned Public Space (POPS) is a term used to describe a type of public space that, although privately owned, is legally required to be open to the public under a city’s zoning ordinance or other land-use law.”

POPS is a typology that has increasing relevance as Perth pushes towards becoming a denser city. Architects are negotiating the guidelines set out by the Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority (MRA) by providing public space and amenity in exchange for zoning concessions to be disregarded such as plot ratios.

The major concern with POPS is the quality of public space they provide. Will they really end up being usable public spaces benefiting the community, or are they there to simply benefit the commercial activity of the developments?

Height restrictions in the Scarborough development contribution plan. Source: MRA



Revised high-rise development Source: hillamarchitects – Instagram



A project that is using POPS to gain planning approval is the proposed Iconic Scarborough high-rise development by 3 Oceans Property, in conjunction with Hillam Architects. The height restrictions of the proposed site are set by the MRA at twelve storeys with concessions allowing up to eighteen storeys. Hillam have however proposed a maximum height of forty-three storeys.

The architects have included public amenities such as an observation deck at the top of the West tower, as well as food and beverage outlets, a market hall and a large carpark.

The proposed observation deck Source: The Iconic Scarborough – Facebook Page


The Observation deck is a public space which utilises the top four floors of the West tower – the most profitable part of the building. Although at first glance this may seem like a grand public gesture, the building would be extremely unlikely to be granted planning approval without gifting the community an area of significant value.

In an interview via The Iconic Scarborough Facebook page, this point of an empty public gesture, namely the observation deck, to gain planning approval for the towers, was raised. They responded by stating “For us the benefit of the observation deck is the tourist appeal it will have which will bring more people to the commercial aspects of the development including the hotel, which benefits everyone involved. Additionally, it’s a way to give back to the community and try to make more of a lasting impact on Scarborough as a whole.”

Artists visualisation of revised scheme Source: The Iconic Scarborough – Facebook Page


The commercial property of the 148-room hotel will remain in the hands of 3 Oceans Property along with other commercial aspects of the tower. It is clear that the observation deck’s primary function is to act as a draw-card to attract customers to the hotel and restaurant located on the top of the West tower adjacent to the observation deck rather than solely giving back to the community and acting in the publics best interest.

With such a relatively small, and very desirable space being opened to the general public, it is hard to imagine it being utilised without a form of regulation or bias in favour of commercial customers.

Artists visualisation of revised scheme Source: hillamarchitects- Instagram



Although this may be the case, pushing the boundaries of the MRA planning regulations is a healthy way to ensure Perth creates unique built-form in the community’s best interest. Ultimately, the MRA has a huge responsibility in determining if the towers are genuinely acting in the best interest of the community, or simply using POPS as a cover for commercial enterprise. The Scarborough proposal has been rejected once and is set for feedback on the second design attempt.



“Master Plan” Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority. Accessed April 18, 2018.

Koch, P. (April 18,2018.) interview via Facebook messenger.

“Scarborough Development Contribution Plan” Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority. Accessed April 18, 2018.

“hillamarchitects” Instagram. Accessed April 19,2018.

“Positive Feedback from Local Community Toward Iconic Contacio site Redevelopment” 3 Oceans Property. Accessed April 20, 2018.

“Scarborough high rise developer revises plans” Stirling Times. Accessed April 19,2018.