Located between Madison and Fifth Avenues on both East 48th and 49th Streets, the south-facing and north-facing spaces of this urban plaza provide something of a daily experiment on how important sun is to the use and enjoyment of privately owned public space. It comes as no surprise that the sunny, southern space is the consistent winner in terms of public use. At lunchtime, users clamor to find available slots on its serpentine, polished granite planter benches hugging east and west walls. At other times during the day, the space becomes an outdoor smoking room. By contrast, the benches on East 49th Street remain relatively uninhabited much of the time. Given the intense competition for seating, it is almost regrettable that there could not be more seating on the sunny side, especially within the expanse of vacant plaza in the middle.
Tower 49 has three other categories of public space. Its western lobby corridor doubles as a public access passageway that, joined with Saks Tower to the north, connects East 48th to East 50th Streets and fashions one of six mid-block, privately owned public space networks in the city. The arcade space borders both sides of the tower behind tall, shiny silver, cylindrical columns. A strip of space parallel to the public sidewalk on East 49th Street is legally classified as sidewalk widening, although it would be hard to distinguish it on site from the urban plaza.