Occupy Wall Street's Liberty Plaza Technically A "Bonus Plaza", Not Private Property

Mat McDermott/CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
photo: Mat McDermott

In case your wondering how a private company, Brookfield, can claim authority to kick out Occupy Wall Street from Liberty Plaza (Zuccotti Park) so that it can be cleaned, it's important to understand the legal status of the space. Benjamin Shepard, an Assistant Professor at the City University of New York, tells us that Liberty Plaza is technically a "bonus plaza"--a green space required under the zoning regulations governing the nearby 1 Liberty Plaza building. In a piece from September 28th on his blog, Shepard quotes Anne Schwartz:

There are 503 such privately-owned "public spaces" in 320 buildings in New York...They owe their existence to zoning laws, passed in 1962 and amended numerous times since, that allowed developers to build taller structures, in exchange for creating and maintaining plazas, atriums, passageways, and other spaces, all supposedly open to the public. Together, they amount to 82 acres, one-tenth the size of Central Park. In exchange, developers were permitted to add on an extra 16 million square feet of floor space.

The piece goes on to say, because these spaces were essentially given to the public in exchange for zoning concessions, they should be treated as public space. Shepard sums up:

If the city chooses to push occupants out of the space on the grounds that it is privately owned, they will not be steady ground. Zuccotti Park was created in exchange for increased height for 1 Liberty Plaza the building just to the north of the Park. Of course, the tenants of 1 Liberty Plaza do not want us to know the public helped pay for their digs. They include Goldman Sachs, Royal Bank of Canada, as well as NASDQ Headquarters, among others. There is a reason Occupy Wall Street chose this location. Few of these corporations are interested in an extended discussion of democracy in New York City, such as those taking shape in the public space known as Zuccotti Park.  But it is just what they will have if they work with the NYPD to evict the members of Occupy Wall Street from the bonus plaza known as Zuccotti Park.

All which shifts the burden back onto the city itself, in claiming responsibility for the cleaning/eviction coming tomorrow morning.

And judging by the long list of rules about what's prohibited in NYC parks--which includes many of the same things as in Brookfield's list (including camping, obstruction of sitting areas, etc, etc)--there's many a regulation that could be used to kick protestors out of spaces whose public status is not in doubt.

Tags: New York City | Urban Life | Urban Planning