As residents of Lower Manhattan grow increasingly ornery about their new neighbors in Zuccotti Park, NPR reminds us that there’s a whole slew of privately owned public spaces (POPs) around the city open to demonstrators, campers (of sorts) and otherwise occupiers.
Across the Manhattan Bridge in Downtown Brooklyn, there are seven POPs (PDF), three of which have been surveyed on the Department of City Planning website. The largest and most hospitable by far is the 3.5 acre Metrotech Center located along the Myrtle Promenade between Jay Street and Flatbush Avenue. Otherwise, there’s the smaller Renaissance Plaza at 350 Jay Street, Livingston Plaza at 130 Livingston Street and the barren Atlantic Terminal on Flatbush Avenue. It’s no Wall Street, but neither is Zuccotti Park.
POPs, also known as “bonus plazas,” began sprouting up after a 1961 Zoning Resolution gave private developers in New York incentive to create public plazas surrounding their skyscrapers. A 1916 Resolution originally enacted a restriction that required building facades to be setback a certain number of feet every few stories to not deprive the already cramped streets of Lower Manhattan of “light and air,” inadvertently spawning an architectural trend. The 1961 plan allowed developers to build up monoliths without restriction so long as they setback the entire structure a given number of feet from the sidewalk. As a result, there are now 3.5 million square feet of space, most of which are required to be open to public use (whatever that may be) 24-hours a day.
According to Jerold S. Kayden, the Harvard Professor who surveys these POPs for the city, 40 percent “were and are practically useless, with austere designs, no amenities and little or no direct sunlight.” And yet, they have been extremely conducive to mass demonstrations.
It’s up to the private owners to enforce “reasonable rules of conduct,” the Department of City Planning says. Barring demonstrators would require “reasonable notice” by way of a posted sign, which has yet to happen. Police, Associated Press reports, need to be “invited” by the owner before they can attempt to enforce any rules. As Francis Reynolds writes for The Nation, “The protesters have been able to set up camp in Zuccotti not because of any regulation that protects their presence there, but precisely because of a real lack of any defined regulations at all.”