A lot has been written in other places (and here) about Mayor Bloomberg’s heavy-handed approach to the eviction of the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park. I haven’t seen anything on a continuing abuse: the current state of lockdown of the park itself, which limits access and enjoyability of this public space.
Here’s a photo and a description of what the park looks like now, almost two weeks after protestors were “evicted:”
The entire perimeter of the park is surrounded by a double wall of police barricades, with two small entrances on the North and South side manned by Zuccotti employees who search bags and do not allow anyone in with large items (ostensibly to keep out people with tents and sleeping bags).
The general effect is of a locked-down area, without any real indication to passers-by that they may even enter (I was asked by many people at the East side of the park if there is a way in).
So? This is the post-occupation park … owned privately, so they can do whatever they like, right?
Any sane assessment of the current state of Zuccotti Park shows it is in stark violation of the laws that apply to privately-owned public space. The city and the park’s owners have used the public’s (and the press’) confusion regarding these laws (and the public’s rights) to get away with not “normalizing” one of the very few open areas in the Financial District after the “clean up” of November 15th.
So what laws are being violated?
The City of New York has a great many regulations for privately-owned public space, and some of the more important ones provide for the areas to be inviting to the public, visible, and easy to access.
Completely surrounding the park with chest-height steel barricades clearly violates these rules.
The sidewalk frontage of a public plaza is required to have a minimum 50% of its area free of obstructions. In addition, plazas that front on a street intersection are required to maintain a clear area within 15 feet of the intersection. The remaining 50% of the sidewalk frontage may contain obstructions such as fixed and moveable seating, plantings and trees, light stanchions, public space signage, trash receptacles or other design elements that are permitted within public plazas and are under two feet in height. The 2009 text amendment clarified that the clear, unobstructed area is measured perpendicular to the street line and that other amenities such as planting walls and water features are permitted to be greater than two feet in height, as long as such amenities are within three feet of a plaza wall.
I’d submit that far more that 50% of the area is free of obstructions and that the obstructions are higher than two feet. A careful reader might point out that these laws are from 2007, and are meant to apply to spaces built after that point — and they would be correct. Thankfully the earlier laws are very similar in this regard.
With a little digging I was able to find the 1961 law that created the privately-owned public space in NYC, and it is roughly the same both in spirit and application:
Any reasonable observer would have to conclude that the current state of Zuccotti Park is in violation of the city’s zoning rules. Please call 311 or tweet the mayor’s office to ask them to stop violating the law and restore the park to a space that is pleasant and inviting to ALL.
With the same manpower and police presence (more likely even less), prohibited items and activities can be easily dealt with and the public at large could begin to enjoy the park again (which was supposedly one goal of the “eviction”). From a PR perspective, the mayor’s office and Zuccotti will have to deal with the (true) perception that they have effectively destroyed a popular movement’s “home,” and not have an in-between state where they can kind of look like they are in support of the protestors. They have used park rules and city laws to crush OWS, now they must obey them too.