On December 17, 2011, the New York Chapter of the AIA held a panel discussion about the Occupy Wall Street events that have spurred people from all over the country into political involvement. The discussion featured nine panelists with introductory remarks from Lance Jay Brown and Michael Kimmelman and closing remarks by Ron Shiffman (all listed below). It focused on aspects of the built environment, public spaces and how they reflect the way in which people assemble.
Follow us after the break for more about this discussion, including video.
The discussions were varied and from many different perspectives: design, history, law, psychology. Each aspect highlights the moments of the movement that bring into question the physical space of our cities and how they should be used, but also how we are permitted to use them. Panelist Alexander Cooper mentions that the success of a city, according to Jane Jacobs, is the health of its public spaces. He notes that the Occupy Movement in Zuccotti Park in New York City was a quintessential public space with tents for various social activities, health services, discussions, music and art.
The interesting thing about Zuccotti Park, as discussed by Thomas Balsley in The New York Observer in “What To Do with Zuccotti Park?”, is that unlike most NYC parks, this one is a “Privately Owned Public Space” meaning that it is a “publicly accessible park maintained by private owners in exchange for zoning incentives”. Balsley has designed dozens of these POPS and notes that close to 90 acres of Manhattan’s public spaces hold this title, all financed by private funds. The value of these spaces is obvious, but the Occupy Movement has brought the use of these public parks and plazas into debate. Balsley asks, “Do they belong to the public, or to their owners? Should they be, and feel, more civic in character, or quieter and more sequestered? What limitations should be placed on their use?”.
In the AIA panel discussion Legal Director, Arthur Eisenberg, questions the very validity of the Freedom of Assembly as it applies to a privately owned space such as Zuccotti Park and whether such laws can even apply. While, historian Lisa Keller reconstructs the history of New York City and the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 that sparked the problems we see today in the lack of public assembly spaces and how even the creation of public spaces has turned into a commercial enterprise to make up for this.
The answers to these questions teeter between design and politics. Was it the design and location of Zuccotti Park that made it so accessible for public assembly, for a “sit-in”? And does that meant that POPS need to be designed in a way that communicates that they are public in nature but private in function, or vice versa? Or should laws and regulations implement the kind of use that engage these spaces. The extent of the debate comes down to what is permitted in these spaces, and what their owners are allowed to do about it. NYC Department of Parks and Recreation has much stricter laws regarding camping out and overnight activity within its parks. NYC parks close at dusk, these POPS may have different regulations altogether.
Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, ACSA, Distinguished Professor in the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at The City College of New York
Michael Kimmelman, chief architecture critic, The New York Times
Rick Bell, FAIA, Executive Director, American Institute of Architects New York Chapter
Alexander Cooper, FAIA, Founding Partner, Cooper Robertson & Partners; architect of Zuccotti Park
Arthur Eisenberg, Legal Director, New York Civil Liberties Union
Dr. Mindy Thompson Fullilove, Professor of Clinical Sociomedical Sciences and Professor of Clinical Psychiatry, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health
Lisa Keller, Associate Professor of History School of Humanities, Purchase College; Columbia University; Author
Elizabeth J. Kennedy, ASLA, Principal, Elizabeth Kennedy Landscape Architect PLLC
Brad Lander, Council Member, Progressive Caucus
Gregory Smithsimon, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, Brooklyn College
Michael Sorkin, Principal, Michael Sorkin Studios; Distinguished Professor of Architecture and Director of the Graduate Urban Design Program at The City College of New York
Ron Shiffman, FAICP, Professor, Pratt Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment Organized by the Center for Architecture, City College of New York School of Architecture, and Pratt Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment.