Beyond Zuccotti Park

New York City has these strange beasts called Privately Owned Public Spaces (or POPS) which were put to some significant tests for the first time in recent history during the Occupy Wall Street protests. Many planners were watching the protests to see if privately owned spaces, like Zuccotti Park, could truly operate as public spaces for protest and debate, as the public realm in a democratic republic like ours should. This is an important issue, because there are so few truly public spaces (that are not parks or streets) in this big city. I can think of Police Plaza and Cadman Plaza, which is mostly a park, but the area near the courthouse and municipal buildings is utilized for protests, announcements, ceremonies, celebrations, performances, farmers’ markets and general hanging about. Union Square also seems to function this way too. My brain stubbornly refuses to identify any others right now, anyone out there know of others? Also are there other cities that you know of that have lots of public open spaces that aren’t just parks (not that parks are any less valuable)? It would be interesting to hear what DC planners and residents think of their public open spaces and how well they work in this regard.

For those wanting to discover more about specific POPS, NYC Open Data has a database that is free to download. It is a Microsoft Access database with some gaps especially for the earlier ones that were built in the mid-twentieth century.

Anyway, I am very excited about the book Beyond Zuccotti Park being released later this year. For transparency’s sake, note that I have studied under both an editor and a contributor, but even if that lends some fuel to my enthusiasm, this is a topic that is very important to Americans being able to utilize their rights.

Beyond Zuccotti Park book cover

Below is an excerpt from the notification about the book’s release from one of the editors, an incredibly dedicated community planner in NYC, Ron Shiffman:

Three-dozen social scientists, planners, architects, artists, activists and civil liberties experts have contributed essays exploring the definition, use, role, and importance of public space for the exercise of democratic rights to free expression in a time of profound social change. This original, foundational work puts issues of democracy and civic engagement back into the center of dialogue about the built environment at point in our history where much of our public space in jeopardy of being privatized. All of the contributors have donated their creative energy to this effort.

Beyond Zuccotti Park is a key component of a larger initiative—Democracy, Equity, and Public Space—which includes a traveling multimedia exhibit, public forums, popular and academic study groups, policy advocacy, and a website. Book tours, forums, and exhibits are slated for New York, Newark, Oakland/Berkeley, Chicago, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Washington DC, and Boston. The initiative aims to engage the public in discussing democracy and equity and improving the design, use, and access to public spaces for social inclusion, the right to assemble and free creative expression. We believe that the right to assemble and the right to freedom of expression are fundamental to the functioning of an informed and accountable democracy. Public space is truly democratic in that it serves all income, racial and ethnic groups and does not differentiate based on one’s religious or political beliefs. Public space enables us to engage in recreational activities –both passive and active. Public space allows us to meet old friends, seed new friendships, engage in discussions and learn from one another so that we can emerge from the narrow recesses of our own experiences and gain a greater understanding of the issues and the aspirations and needs of our neighbors. Public space provides us with the place to assemble to help make our democracy and our nation a more perfect place for all of its people.

It has an impressive list of contributors, and looks like it will be good urbanist brain food!

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