Professor Jerold Kayden's Op-Ed on Occupy Wall Street and Privately Owned Public SpacesOct 26, 2011
An unintended but potentially significant benefit emerging from the Occupy Wall Street movement is the spotlight that the protesters camped out in Zuccotti Park have cast on the city’s privately owned public spaces.
Since 1961, the City Planning Commission has used zoning laws to give developers the right to build over 20 million square feet of extra residential and office floor space in return for providing more than 500 public plazas, arcades and indoor spaces. On paper, it reads like a great deal that, at little cost to the city, has given it enough additional public space to cover 10 percent of Central Park.
But the comparison between privately owned public spaces and Central Park stops there. Too many of them—roughly 40 percent, according to a 2000 study I conducted with the Department of City Planning and the Municipal Art Society and that still holds today—were and are practically useless, with austere designs, no amenities and little or no direct sunlight. Roughly half of the buildings surveyed had spaces that were illegally closed or otherwise privatized.
The poor quality of these plazas is not primarily the developers’ fault; they merely followed the letter of an inadequate law. In the first 14 years, the zoning code offered a simple exchange: one square foot of vacant space at the base of a building for 10 square feet of bonus floor area to rent or sell. No mention was made of what to put in the space. The result was a proliferation of forbidding empty places throughout Manhattan.
Excerpt from The New York Times, October 19, 2011, by Jerold S. Kayden, Frank Backus Williams Professor of Urban Planning and Design and Director of the Master in Urban Planning Degree Program