Sunday, October 30, 2011
From the Wall Street Journal's Developments blog: What Occupy Wall Street Owes to Zoning.
Occupy Wall Street’s monthlong protest has been helped by donors willing to supply food, temperate fall weather and support from organized labor and some elected officials. But a less-visible asset has proved a big boon for the protesters: New York City’s land-use policy.
The geographic center of the protest is lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, a one-block collection of trees and benches that is owned by an office landlord, Brookfield Office Properties Inc. Private ownership actually makes the space more accessible than public parks, many of which close at night.
As discussed in a Journal article on Saturday, the city’s zoning code requires that many privately owned parks be open to the public at all times — one of the factors that made Zuccotti Park a hospitable venue for the protesters’s all-hours encampment.
Termed a “privately owned public space” — or POPS, in zoning parlance — these plazas stand at the intersection of capitalist instinct and public interest. The zoning code puts restrictions on the scale of towers that developers are allowed to build. In an attempt to add public space in Manhattan without buying new parkland, city government allowed developers to build bigger structures if they set aside a plaza that remains open to the public.
While many of these are tucked away in the backs of buildings or in lobbies, Zuccotti Park turns out to be one of the most accessible POPS in the city. Of course, there is an irony that the space in which Occupy Wall Street has found a continued home is owned by the city’s largest landlord for financial services firms — the very industry they are protesting.