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The Public-Private Partnership Behind Zuccotti Park
The Public-Private Partnership Behind Zuccotti ParkBy Kevin Connor Oct 05, 2011 at 13:57 EST

There are growing signs that the powers that be feel threatened by #OccupyWallStreetand the movement it has inspired. Yesterday, Andrew Ross Sorkin's assignment editor at the New York Times big bank CEO friend asked him to check out the protests to see if they were a threat. Last week, Mayor Bloomberg was asked if he would let the protesters stay in the park, and he responded with an ambiguous "We'll see" before absurdly taking the protesters to task for protesting "people who make $40,000 and $50,000 a year and are struggling to make ends meet." And today, WNYC reported that NYPD sources are saying that an "indefinite" occupation of the Zuccotti Park is not an option, based on their talks with the park's owner.
If the city moves to squash the revolt by evicting the protesters, Mayor Bloomberg and the owner of Zuccotti Park, Brookfield Properties, will be inviting a lot more attention from the occupiers, the press, and the public. The public-private partnership that controls the park has not received much scrutiny so far. An eviction would change that dramatically.
It has not been reported, for instance, that Bloomberg's longtime, live-in girlfriend,Diana Taylor, sits on the board of Brookfield. The relationship gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "public-private partnership." Numerous articles have noted that Brookfield owns the park and is in close contact with the city about the situation there, but oddly enough no one seems to have looked at its board (not hard to do). The connection should confirm, in case there was any question, that Bloomberg and the owner of the park are in constant communication.
[Image: bloombergtaylor.jpg]Bloomberg's longtime, live-in girlfriend, Diana Taylor, sits on the board of Brookfield Properties, which owns the park that Wall Street protesters are occupying.
Taylor is an investment banker and prominent New York City fundraiser. She joined the board of Brookfield in 2007 following a stint as New York State's Superintendent of Banks. She currently works at Wolfensohn, an investment firm run by former World Bank head James Wolfensohn, and also sits on the board of Citigroup. Taylor and Bloomberg met, fittingly enough, at a Citizens Budget Commission luncheon in 2001. The Citizens Budget Commission is a committee of elites committed to financial austerity, i.e. tax cuts for the 1%, service and job cuts for everyone else. A group of bankers founded it during the Depression to fight for this brand of fiscal seriousness in New York City.
Coincidentally, Taylor has been the subject of a spate of puff pieces in recent weeks, including a New York Times article, a Talk of the Town piece in the New Yorker, and aNew York Observer feature. None have mentioned her ties to the owner of Zuccotti Park (though the Observer piece mentions that she sits on the board of Brookfield).
Taylor has taken some flack for criticizing Obama in the Observer piece, at one point invoking Sarah Palin by saying that he hasn't come through on his "hopey-changey stuff." According to Crain's, her comments "surprised insiders" given her partner's more neutral position and the protocol that typically governs high-powered fundraisers for charity. One lobbyist speculated that her comments positioned her for a role in a Republican administration, which may explain all the press. She also sounded off about the Dodd Frank financial reform legislation, speaking from the neutral standpoint of someone who made $286,250 last year as a director Citigroup.
The cozy, overlooked relationship between Bloomberg and Brookfield, and Brookfield's ownership of Zuccotti Park, highlights the very dynamic #OccupyWallStreet is protesting: the control of public resources, and government itself, by the wealthy and powerful the 1%. The occupiers have taken an important first step towards correcting this imbalance. The message is resonating and the movement is growing. If Bloomberg & Brookfield (LLP) move to re-assert 1% control of the park, it could really backfire on them. If they attempt to shut down the protesters by cutting off supplies, or implementing restrictions designed to make life in the park impossible in cold weather, it could really backfire on them. And Andrew Ross Sorkin's assignment editor would not like that.
Note: I set up a LittleSis research group today for folks interested in conducting research on 1% networks, in solidarity with (and in order to assist) the occupiers and the broader movement against finance capital they have inspired. If you don't have an account yet,use this link to sign up. I haven't settled on any specific research questions to tackle just yet, but if you have any thoughts, join the group and write a note.
"The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it." Karl Marx

"He would, wouldn't he?" Mandy Rice-Davies. When asked in court whether she knew that Lord Astor had denied having sex with her.

“I think it would be a good idea” Ghandi, when asked about Western Civilisation.

Public Space, Private Rules: The Legal Netherworld of Occupy Wall Street

  • October 13, 2011 3:45 pm PDT
[Image: full_1318542470_d498ea2b76_z.jpg]
The New York Police Department's announcement that officers will remove Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zuccotti Park at 7 a.m. tomorrow is a reminder that the movement was lucky to stumble into that location. Had the protest begun almost anywhere else in New York City, it almost certainly would have been shut down far sooner.
The three-plus-week-old protest has allowed New York to make use one of its least effective policies. Zuccotti Park is one of New York's 500-plus "privately owned public spaces," but most are so useless and unattractive that no one even thinks of them as parks at all.
The POPS program was creating in 1961 to add much-needed park space to Manhattan's unrelenting street grid. The city offered a deal to real estate developers: create a public space on your property, and earn the ability to extend the building 20 percent higher. Zuccotti Parkoriginally known as Liberty Park before it was renamed after the CEO of its corporate ownerwas built in 1968 under such an agreement.
Developers were quick to jump on the opportunity to squeeze more space (and thus profit) into Manhattan's expensive, narrow land plots. Some buildings created two spaces: Zuccotti Park, for example, was built as part of the deal to construct 1 Liberty Plaza, across Liberty Street. That building got its height bonus for putting a typically useless and unattractive "plaza," ringed with concrete pillars, around the structure itself. But in exchange for further special zoning permits, such as an exemption from a requirement that the building be set back for light and air, the company also built the park across the street.
For many years, the city government imposed no requirements on how the spaces were to be designed and decorated. Unsurprisingly, developers took that as license to do as little as possible. Thus, many POPS are nothing more than an empty swath of concrete in front of an office tower, breaking up an aesthetically consistent row of buildings. For examples of POPS at their worst, check out Park Avenue in Midtownor the building across Broadway from Zuccotti Park. A 2007 study by the New York City Department of City Planning, the Municipal Art Society and Jerold Kayden, a professor of urban planning at Harvard, found that 41 percent of POPS "are of marginal utility." At the other end of the spectrum, only "16 percent of the spaces are actively used as regional destinations or neighborhood gathering spaces."
Over the years, the city government has tightened the rules governing the design of new public spaces. Some existing ones were spruced up, including Zuccotti in 2005. "It was an amenity that could be used," says Kayden. "It had seating areas and trees. It wasn't a stellar, outstanding space, but it was not among the worst.
And, as the Occupy Wall Street protesters discovered, being a POPS gave it one distinct advantage over most public spaces: being privately owned means it inhabits a legal netherworld. "The law is pretty clear about using publicly owned public spaces for protests," says Eric Goldwyn, a Ph.D. student in urban planning at Columbia University. "You need to apply for permits with the NYPD. If you want to hold a rally in Central Park, or if you want to close a sidewalk, there's a clear process to follow, otherwise you get arrested. But with public/private spaces it's totally unclear." For four weeks the protesters camped out overnight, which is illegal in city-owned parks.
So by squatting in a park that is open to the public 24 hours per day, but not subject to the same laws and legal precedents as city-owned spaces, Occupy Wall Street organizers found a special niche. Brookfield, the company that owns the park, publicly complained about the protesters, but city officials maintained they lacked legal standing to eject them. Now the city has reversed course, ordering protesters to leave the park Friday morning so it can be cleaned. Afterwards, protesters will be allowed to return but prohibited from staying overnight, according to NYPD.
Unlike many privately owned public spaces, Zuccotti Park has no rules allowing Brookfield to set closing times and other rules about of public usage. Until Thursday, it appeared that Brookfield might have no recourse but to apply to the city government for permission to set such rules. Instead, the city government announced its own intention to ban staying overnight in the park, but its legal rationale is not clear.
If Occupy Wall Street protesters insist on staying overnight despite the ban, they may be forcibly removed or arrested, leaving it to the legal system to sort things out. How the courts will weigh the city's interest in keeping the park clean and usable for regular residents of the neighborhood against the benefits of using public space as for democratic discourse is anyone's guess.
It should come as no surprise that the city decided to act: Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been hostile in dealing with protesters throughout his three terms in office. In the run-up to the Iraq War and during the 2004 Republican National Convention, Bloomberg inexplicably denied reasonable protest permit requests, used metal gates to pen protesters, and had hundreds arrested without the evidence to sustain any charges. When Occupy Wall Street ventured onto the Brooklyn Bridge, the police arrested 700 non-violent protesters. But for a brief, shining moment, activists used the byproduct of a questionable city program to tie his authoritarian hands.
Photo via (cc) Flickr user [URL=""]BlaisOne[/URL]
"The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it." Karl Marx

"He would, wouldn't he?" Mandy Rice-Davies. When asked in court whether she knew that Lord Astor had denied having sex with her.

“I think it would be a good idea” Ghandi, when asked about Western Civilisation.

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