Private Space Gone Public at Wall Street
Friday, October 14, 2011
Kurt Andersen and Michael Kimmelman head to Lower Manhattan to check out the transformation of Zuccotti Park, the plaza at the center of the Occupy Wall Street protest. Kimmelman is the architecture critic for the New York Times. The protesters haven’t built permanent structures, but Kimmelman believes they are creating a form of urban space. His article on the subject appears in the Times this weekend.
The protesters' use of the space has ancient roots, Kimmelman believes. "There's this wonderful passage in The Politics by Aristotle in which he talks about a polis shaped by the distance of a herald's cry — meaning a civic space, a city functioning in which people have the ability to meet face to face to speak with each other."
Zuccotti Park sits on private property. In the 1960s, the developer of an office tower (now called 1 Liberty Plaza) wanted to build nine stories higher than the zoning permitted, and a deal was struck to create a little outdoor plaza in exchange for those extra stories. "The most delicious irony of the whole thing," Kimmelman says, is "because Zuccotti Park is a private property, it isn't subject to the same rules as city parks. Because of a zoning variance it has to be open day and night, unlike a public park. Because it's a private park, it's more public."
Before this past month, Zuccotti Park was not really a place people lingered, and most New Yorkers had never even heard of it. It was just a bit of concrete that workers raced through on their way to the buildings surrounding it. Kimmelman thinks the park, now filled with people talking and exchanging ideas, is the nicest he's ever seen it: "It really works when it's occupied, when you really get a lot of people in it. The people make the place, as always."
What do you think? Is the use of public space by the protesters — on Wall Street and in your city — appropriate? Tell us in a comment below.
Slideshow: On Location at Zuccotti Park
For What it's WorthArtist: Public EnemyAlbum: He Got GameLabel: Polygram UKPurchase: Amazon