Friday, October 21, 2011

Zuccotti Park and the OWS Crowd

An interesting challenge faces city planners and urban designers: At what point do you have to say that a plaza or square is too big or for that matter too small. With the occupation of Zuccotti Park in New York by the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, I’m sure there are park designers going out their minds while being seriously disappointed. Now is this any way to treat a park?

Zuccotti Park was initially created in 1968 by United States Steel and called Liberty Plaza Park. It was built to gain a height bonus to the steel company’s headquarters and led a quiet and reasonably uneventful life until the morning of September 11, 2001. The park was heavily damaged in the 9-11 attacks and the sad clean up after. It was restored and renovated by the current owners Brookfield Office Properties, the park was named after its current chairman John Zuccotti.

The park was reopened on June 1, 2006 after an $8 million redesign by Cooper, Robertson and Partners. Mr. Zuccotti was also a former City Planning Commissioner and a deputy mayor under Abe Beame. It was and still is, obviously, a popular tourist location and its location near Ground Zero makes it a comfortable destination. But there is the rub.
Zuccotti Park, New York
Being a private park in New York it is not necessarily subject to the usual city public park curfews and regulations. The NYPD cannot expressly prevent protestors from the park, it is a private matter, except for its very public impact. In fact it is required to be open 24 hours a day. There are no public services and the current sanitation problems are, well, interesting. A good rain would probably help. The trees, only a few years old, I’m sure, are having great difficulty dealing with the press of people, tents, urine and whatever. A crush of people has impacts, whether for fun or protest.
Occupied Zuccotti Park

The Hotel at Zuccotti Park
When the park was reopened in 2006, it was a diagonally designed pedestrian park with hard granite surfaces, a dramatic floor of lit glass panels, and the urban scene's most ubiquitous tree, an orchard of honey locusts. But this is New York and the plaza sits to the north of tall buildings, light will always be at a premium, stiff breezes will not be. To be honest, I have not visited the redesigned plaza, my last visit to lower Manhattan and Ground Zero was in the fall of 2004. Much has changed in this part of New York, much.

I have great respect for Cooper, Robertson and Partners and their take on urban design and planning. Go HERE to get a sense of the park before its takeover. It was the 2008 AIA Honor Award winner for regional and urban design.
Zuccotti at Night - the light floor is just great!
Our public plazas and parks, especially those in dense urban areas, are subject to politics and abuse. They recall history by their names, Berkeley’s People Park, Boston Commons, the National Mall with its numerous demonstrations and celebrations, Central Park, Golden Gate Park, Embarcadero Plaza, Jackson Park, Grant Park (1968), and so many others figure in the national rhetoric and conversation.

So now that I have put a face on Zuccotti Park, it’s my hope that the damage will be slight, that repairs can be made (on so many levels), and we can then move forward.

Stay tuned . . . .

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